Israel and Hamas escalated their military confrontation Tuesday, with Israel carrying out extensive air attacks in response to heavy rocket fire and authorizing a major call-up of army reserves for an extended campaign against militants in the Gaza Strip.
Late Tuesday, Hamas, an Islamic militant group, took responsibility for a new wave of up to 40 longer-range rockets, some of them intercepted over Tel Aviv and even Jerusalem, where sirens sounded around 10 p.m.
There were no reports of injuries, but the rocket barrage, one of which hit an open area in outer Jerusalem, put pressure on the Israeli government to respond with greater force.
Israeli warplanes struck sites that Israeli officials said harbored Islamist fighters in Gaza, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu authorized the call-up of 40,000 reservists, apparently to give Israel the option of a ground invasion of Gaza.
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He said he was prepared to “remove the gloves” and undertake the third major military offensive against militants in the Hamas-controlled territory in five years if rocket attacks from Gaza did not cease.
“I call on you to display patience because this operation could take time,” Netanyahu said on national TV.
Tuesday’s offensive set off the heaviest fighting between Israel and Hamas since an eight-day battle in November 2012.
Both sides resorted to a show of military strength after a series of quick-fire events that illustrated the extreme fragility of Israeli-Palestinian relations, starting with the collapse of U.S.-sponsored peace talks, the attempts by rival Palestinian factions to form a coalition government, the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers and a revenge kidnapping and murder of a Palestinian teenager.
Palestinian officials said that at least 23 people were killed Tuesday in Gaza, where repeated bombardments shook buildings and sent thousands of people into the streets. Israeli officials said two people in Israel had been wounded by rocket attacks Monday.
As the rockets and jet fighters flew, Israeli officials emphasized that their goal was to restore quiet to southern Israel, where many thousands of Israelis fled to shelters and schools were shut.
But Netanyahu’s government was also under pressure for a more extensive operation, including ground troops, to destroy a military infrastructure in Gaza rebuilt since Israel’s last campaign there in 2012.
At the same time, Hamas needed to show more radical groups in Gaza that it could stand up to Israel.
Weakened by the installation of an antagonistic military-backed government in Egypt that has moved to seal the border with Gaza, sharply reducing Hamas’ tax receipts, Hamas appears to have fallen back on its main principle of armed resistance to Israel.
As both sides tried to send political messages through military activity, the Israeli military said Tuesday night that more than 150 rockets had been fired at Israel, of which at least 29 were intercepted.
Israel hit some 150 targets, the military said, including five senior Hamas officials, 10 smuggling tunnels, 90 concealed rocket launchers and 18 weapon storage and manufacturing sites. One of those killed was reportedly Muhammad Shaban, a senior Hamas military officer, when a missile hit his car.
Palestinian authorities in Gaza said at least two teenagers were among the dead from Israeli air attacks on targets that included the car and homes of Hamas members and officials. Seven died in one house in Khan Younis, bombed after a telephoned warning.
Ashraf al-Qedra, a Health Ministry spokesman in Gaza, said that more than 100 people had been wounded in the aerial assaults. President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority demanded that Israel immediately stop.
In a seaborne raid in southern Israel, a group of five Hamas gunmen armed with grenades tried to infiltrate an Israeli army base at Zikim, close to the Gaza border. An army spokesman said that after the group was spotted by a lookout, the militants were killed in a firefight with troops who rushed to the scene.
In another incident, explosives detonated in a tunnel near Kerem Shalom on the Gaza border, but no casualties were reported, the military said.
While the Israeli government authorized the army to call-up another 40,000 reservists, the defense minister, Moshe Yaalon, a former chief of staff, said that the goal of Operation Protective Edge “is to bring down to zero the fire and attacks out of Gaza.”
Predicting a protracted campaign, he said that “Hamas will pay a heavy price, as it has already begun paying, in order for it to understand that our citizens and soldiers are not to be fired at.”
In Sderot, an Israeli town about a mile from the border with Gaza that was first hit by rockets 13 years ago, residents in an open-air market ran with their shopping bags to find shelter behind a truck or by a wall when an rocket alert sounded, then went back to buying groceries.
Limor Porin, a mother of two, said she had come to shop alone after leaving her children at home close to a fortified room.
“The family needs to eat,” she said, as loud booms from Gaza were heard. “Life is stronger than fear.”
McClatchy Newspapers and The Associated Press contributed to this report.