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Israelis thrown into confusion as Hamas takes fight to Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv comes into range of missiles fired by Gaza-based resistance, sowing panic in streets of Israeli capital and prompting call up of some 30,000 reservists

Ahmed Eleiba , Friday 16 Nov 2012
Smoke trails are seen as an Iron Dome intercepts a rocket which was launched from Gaza, near the southern town of Sderot November 15, 2012 (Photo: Reuters)
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Air raid sirens on Thursday, sent residents running for shelter in Tel Aviv, a Mediterranean city that has not been hit by a rocket since the 1991 Gulf War, when it was targeted by Saddam Hussein's Iraq.Two more rockets were fired on Tel Aviv on Friday.

Although there were no specific targets in the districts of Holon and Rishon LeZion, sirens rang out loudly across the city and in Bat Yam and Bnei Brak in the south, damaging the communications networks of Cellcom wireless and Cincinnati Bell, which collapsed and affected residents in that region.

Meanwhile, Al-Qassam Brigades – the armed wing of Palestinian resistance faction Hamas, which recently lost ranking member Ahmed Al-Jaabari – announced it had downed an Israeli surveillance plane with a surface-to-air missile.

If true, this would indicate a marked shift in Hamas' defensive capacity.

According to Hamas spokesman Mohamed Abu-Shaar, the Iranian-made Fajr-5 missile (which boasts a range of 70 kilometres), along with the Russian Kornet and Saray Al-Quds missiles, which are being launched from platforms for the first time, are sending a "strong message" to Israel.

"I believe [Israel] is confused for the first time," said Abu-Shaar.

"Tactical developments on the battlefield will make Israel reconsider its overall operations," he added, "because the balance of power on the ground and the capabilities of the Palestinian factions – which have quickly formed a united command to handle attacks – are different than they were during Israel's 2008/09 Operation Cast Lead."

Abu-Shaar confirmed reports that Israel had, for the first time, asked Cairo to mediate with Hamas with a view to ending the missile attacks that have reached Tel Aviv and southern Israel. Hamas, he explained, had responded by rejecting any mediation for the time being.

"Gaza today realises that it has genuine support abroad that will protect it after the courageous steps that Egypt has taken in light of events," Abu-Shaar said.

"Most importantly, [Gaza has received] medical aid that was preceded by political backing," he said. "The people of Gaza praise these actions, which were unheard of during the Mubarak era, because Mubarak's Egypt coordinated with Israel during Operation Cast Lead. Today, the opposite is happening."

Egyptian Brigadier-General Safwat El-Zayyat said it was necessary to confirm that Israel's deterrent capacity had been eliminated, noting that, for the first time in its history, the Israeli public was not safe from attack.

Although traditional Hamas supporters Iran and Hezbollah have clearly retreated from aiding the group due to the latter's position on the armed insurgency in Syria, Hamas nonetheless appears to have succeeded in changing the rules of the game.

El-Zayat warned that Egypt "must now wisely manage what is happening in Gaza, and domestic political forces must not try to outdo each other and drag Egypt into an undesirable conflict, especially given reports that some missiles targeting southern Israel were launched from Egypt's Sinai Peninsula. Everyone must support the political leadership now."

For El-Zayat, Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Qandil's brief visit to the Gaza Strip on Friday means Cairo might have received a green light from the US to attempt to mediate a truce that Hamas does not want right now.

Meanwhile, Palestinian sources say that Marwan Eissa, a leading figure in Hamas' Al-Qassam Brigades currently involved in the fighting, will replace the late Al-Jaabari. According to an Al-Qassam source, thousands of resistance fighters want to avenge Al-Jaabari's death.

Reports that Israel is mobilising 30,000 reserve soldiers is believed to be part of a psychological war. "Even if [the reservists] are deployed, we pledge to transform Israel into a hell; we will never stop," added the same source.

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