By Batsheva Sobelman, Los Angeles Times
JERUSALEM — A fresh round of rockets fired from the Gaza Strip sent Israelis scurrying for bomb shelters as far as Tel-Aviv, 40 miles away Wednesday morning, the second day of Israel’s military offensive on the Hamas-Gcontrolled Gaza strip.
Hamas claimed responsibility for firing a volley of rockets intercepted before hitting Tel Aviv, as other rockets landed throughout central Israel, shutting down main traffic arteries and causing concern for air traffic.
Israel pounded Gaza overnight by dozens of airstrikes against 160 targets, including 120 concealed long-range rocket launchers, Hamas facilities and command positions, Israeli army officials said. The military offensive came as plans were made to deploy a third infantry brigade along the Gaza border and continued drafting of army reservists.
At least 23 Palestinians have been reported killed and dozens more injured in the latest Israeli offensive dubbed Operation Protective Edge, which began early Tuesday morning. Palestinians reported at least one fatality Wednesday morning in an air strike that targeted a man on a motorcycle in the northern part of the Gaza strip.
Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon announced his recommendation to senior defense and diplomatic officials that Israel cease the transfer of fuel and electricity to the Gaza Strip.
“It is inconceivable that at the same time that we are battling Hamas, we are also transferring fuel and electricity to the very terrorists who are firing missiles at our cities,” Danon said. “We must use every tool at our disposal to pressure Hamas so that they unconditionally end their attacks on Israel.”
Increasingly, rockets fired from Gaza appear more advanced and with greater range, reaching further into Israel than ever before. One rocket Tuesday night struck the city of Hadera, about 72 miles into Israel. It landed on a residential street but caused no injuries. The area has been targeted in the past but by Hezbollah rockets from the opposite direction.
Uzi Rubin, former director of Israel’s Missile Defense Organization and a researcher at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, said that Hamas had improved its arsenal of rockets since Israel’s previous military operation in the Gaza Strip in November 2012. “During the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood in neighboring Egypt, relations between the two were good and allowed free use of smuggling tunnels for weaponry, machinery, components and raw materials,” Rubin said. “Egypt has since shunned Hamas and shut down the smuggling tunnels.”
Given the closed tunnels and current chilly relations with Egypt, Hamas will have difficulty replenishing its arsenal. “Every rocket they fire now is one that cannot be immediately replaced and judging by how they are conserving their ammunition, they are preparing for a long campaign,” Rubin said.
According to Israeli army spokesman Peter Lerner, the rocket that struck Hadera was an M-302, similar to those found on the Klos-C, a ship intercepted by the Israeli Navy in March in the Red Sea 621 miles from Israeli shores. Among the weaponry found on board were 40 rockets of this type with a range of up to nearly 100 miles.
Manufactured in Syria and shipped by Iran, the rockets were earmarked for the Gaza strip, according to Israel. Iran has not claimed responsibility for the shipment.
“We said back then that this was a game-changer,” said Lerner.
Although that particular shipment was intercepted, Hamas is believed to have several dozens of these rockets. Some versions of the M-302 have a range of up to 124 miles with a 385-pound warhead. The militant faction is also believed to have its own locally manufactured version of this rocket.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened security cabinet ministers Wednesday morning for discussions.
AFP Photo/Ahmad Gharabli