Hamas’s military wing said it had fired two Gaza-made M-75 rockets — a new projectile that the group said had a range of about 45 miles — toward Jerusalem, which is about 50 miles north of the Gaza border. The strike offered evidence that hundreds of Israeli airstrikes since Wednesday had not depleted Hamas’s stockpiles of longer-range rockets, which the Israeli military says have been greatly bolstered over the past two years by contributions from Iran and smuggled-in weapons from Libya.
Even if the rocket missed by a handful of miles, targeting Jerusalem was a surprisingly risky move that carried the potential of a major backlash — not just from Israel, but from the Palestinian public and Hamas’s Arab allies. East Jerusalem is home to hundreds of thousands of Arabs, and the al-Aqsa mosque in the Old City is Islam’s third-holiest site.
“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 Obaida, a spokesman for the Hamas militant wing, told the Associated Press.
Earlier Friday, Kandil and Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh toured Gaza’s al-Shifa hospital. As a scrum of photographers and camera crews recorded the moment, Kandil placed his hand on the head of a young boy killed in a recent strike.
“I have seen now Gaza, and the hospital, and the martyred child Mohammed Yasser,” Kandil said, pausing as he choked up with emotion. Flanked by guards in olive flak jackets, he lifted his arms to show reporters spots of blood on the sleeves of his suit jacket. “These are the signs, the blood spatters of our brethren,” Kandil said. “This tragedy cannot be ignored, and the whole world has to shoulder the responsibility to stop its aggression. We are standing with you.”
A deployment of troops into Gaza would probably face little political opposition in Israel, where the operation has gotten widespread support and amounted to a political victory for Netanyahu, if not yet a military one. Labor Party chair Shelly Yacimovich, a reliable Netanyahu critic, described the assassination of the Hamas military chief that opened the offensive as “amazing.”
On Friday, President Shimon Peres, who often serves as a dovish counterweight to Netanyahu, said: “This is not the launch of a war, but a justified defense of our civilians.”
One of those Israeli civilians, Katya Fayngart, a 28-year-old resident of the southern Israeli city of Beersheba, said she had faith that Netanyahu was working to stop the sirens that during calm times send her racing, with her husband and baby, to their stairwell at least twice a week. These days, she said, the drill happens multiple times an hour.
“We have to trust him to get us to the point when we can live our lives,” she said.
Many Gazans say they think politics drove the Israeli decision to strike the strip, which Israeli officials deny. According to a report in Haaretz newspaper on Friday, Barak — who is also seeking votes for his small political party — said the trigger was a rare opportunity to assassinate Hamas commander Ahmed al-Jabari. Netanyahu was already a clear favorite in the coming elections.
Some Israeli political analysts say that if the timing was motivated by the election, it was poorly calculated. Two months leaves much room for political damage if, say, civilian casualties, international opposition or rockets on Tel Aviv rise.
Netanyahu would prefer to keep Iran’s nuclear program, not Gaza, his signature security issue, but rocket attacks from Gaza threatened to make him look weak, said Reuven Hazan, chair of the political science department at Hebrew University.
“The prime minister is now putting his political campaign in the hands of every pilot in the air. The pilots are extremely well-trained, and they’re elite. It isn’t the same with ground troops,” he said, adding: “Unless we’re willing to go into Gaza and just level the place, we’re not going to win.”
Islam Abdul-Karim in Gaza and Debbi Wilgoren in Washington contributed to this article.