KARIN LAUB, JOSEF FEDERMAN
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Hamas rocket squads aimed at Jerusalem for the first time Friday, along with commercial hub Tel Aviv, showing off their expanded reach with what they said were Gaza-made projectiles that have never been fired before. Israel called up 16,000 reservists, moving a step closer to a possible ground offensive in the Palestinian territory.
Air raid sirens sounded in the two cities which — unlike population centers in Israel’s south — had not been exposed to rocket fire from Hamas-ruled Gaza before the current round of cross-border fighting. No injuries were reported, but Hamas’ latest attempts to hit Israel’s heartland could push Israel closer to sending ground troops into Gaza.
Over the past three days, Israel has relentlessly pounded suspected rocket launching sites and other Hamas targets in Gaza with scores of airstrikes, while Hamas has fired more than 450 rockets toward Israel.
Hamas was badly bruised during its last full-fledged confrontation with Israel four years ago, but appeared better prepared this time with a more powerful arsenal.
Just a few years ago, Palestinian rockets were limited to crude, homemade devices manufactured in Gaza. But in recent years, Hamas and other armed groups have smuggled in sophisticated, longer-range rockets from Iran and Libya, which has been flush with weapons since Moammar Gadhafi was ousted last year.
Most of the rockets do not have guided systems, limiting their accuracy, though Israeli officials believe the militants may have a small number of guided missiles that have not yet been deployed.
Hamas said the two rockets aimed at the two Israeli cities Friday were made in Gaza, a prototype the militants call M-75, and have a range of about 50 miles.
The air raid sirens sounded in Jerusalem after the start of the Jewish Sabbath in the holy city, claimed by both Israel and the Palestinians as a capital and located about 47 miles from Gaza. Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the rocket landed in an open area southeast of the city.
Earlier Friday, Gaza militants fired toward Tel Aviv and an explosion was heard in the city, but no injuries were reported. Hamas had first targeted Tel Aviv on Thursday, an unprecedented achievement for the group.
“We are sending a short and simple message: There is no security for any Zionist on any single inch of Palestine and we plan more surprises,” Abu Obeida, spokesman for the Hamas militant wing, said of the rockets aimed at Israel’s two main cities.
Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich, an Israeli military spokeswoman, said no decision has been made yet on a ground offensive but all options are on the table. Dozens of armored vehicles have been moved to Israel’s border with Gaza since fighting intensified Wednesday, following Israel’s assassination of the Hamas military chief.
She said 16,000 reserve soldiers were called up Friday, and the army could draft an additional 14,000 soldiers. She did not say where the reservists were being deployed.
The violence has widened the instability gripping the region, straining already frayed Israel-Egypt relations. The Islamist government in Cairo, like Hamas linked to the region-wide Muslim Brotherhood, recalled its ambassador in protest and dispatched Prime Minister Hesham Kandil to show solidarity with Gaza.
Kandil called for an end to the offensive while touring Gaza City’s Shifa Hospital with the territory’s prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas, who was making his first public appearance since the fighting began.
In one chaotic moment, a man rushed toward the two leaders, shouting as he held up the body of a 4-year-old boy. The two prime ministers cradled the lifeless boy who Hamas said was killed in an Israeli airstrike — a claim Israel denied.
Fighting to hold back tears, Kandil told reporters that the Israeli operation must end.
“What I saw today in the hospital, the wounded and the martyrs, the boy ... whose blood is still on my hands and clothes, is something that we cannot keep silent about,” he said.
Israel said it halted its incessant air attacks on militant targets in Gaza during Kandil’s visit, though Hamas security claimed three airstrikes hit the territory during that period.
Militants, meanwhile, fired off more than 60 rockets after Kandil arrived in Gaza. The pace of cross-border fighting quickly resumed after the Egyptian leader’s departure.
In Egypt’s two largest cities, Cairo and Alexandria, thousands protested the Israeli offensive Friday in marches organized by Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood. Protesters waved Palestinian flags and chanted slogans against Israel. In Cairo’s Tahrir Square, a few hundred protesters burned an Israeli flag.
Prominent Brotherhood figures took part, many brandishing the checkered Palestinian scarf, or keffiyeh, during the marches.
Small anti-Israeli demonstrations occurred in east Jerusalem and the West Bank. Police dispersed the crowds with tear gas and stun grenades. And in Iran, a close Hamas ally, thousands of people took to the streets in the capital Tehran. The demonstrators carried banners denouncing Israel. They chanted “Death to the U.S.” and “Death to Israel.”