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Hamas missiles hit Tel Aviv; Israel mobilizing troops
JERUSALEM -- Israel has begun moving troops toward the Gaza Strip and authorized the call-up of reservists for a possible ground invasion of the Palestinian territory.
At least a dozen trucks carrying tanks and armored vehicles were seen late Thursday moving toward the border area, while buses ferried soldiers.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak announced that he had authorized the army to draft reserve forces for possible activity in Gaza. The army said as many as 30,000 troops could be drafted.
Military officials said the moves were preparations for a possible ground operation, but no decision has been made to enter Gaza.
Israel's air force launched an offensive against Gaza militants on Wednesday. But continued rocket fire out of Gaza on Thursday has raised the likelihood of a ground invasion.
Palestinian militants barraged Israel with nearly 150 rockets on Thursday, killing three people as Israel pressed a punishing campaign of airstrikes on militant targets across the Gaza Strip. Three rockets struck the densely populated Tel Aviv area, and air raid sirens blared in the city as night fell.
Fifteen Palestinians have been killed and nearly 200 wounded in fighting on Wednesday and Thursday. The three Israelis were killed when a rocket struck an apartment building in the southern town of Kiryat Malachi. The Israeli military said three soldiers were wounded in a separate rocket attack.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the army was prepared for a "significant widening" of its Gaza offensive.
"No government would tolerate a situation where nearly a fifth of its people live under a constant barrage of rockets and missile fire, and Israel will not tolerate this situation," he said. "This is why my government has instructed the Israeli Defense Forces to conduct surgical strikes against the terrorist infrastructure in Gaza. And this is why Israel will continue to take whatever action is necessary to defend our people."
Israel and Hamas have largely observed an informal truce for the past four years. But in recent weeks, the calm unraveled in a bout of rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza and retaliatory Israeli airstrikes.
From Israel's perspective, Hamas escalated tit-for-tat fighting in recent days with a pair of attacks: an explosion in a tunnel along the Israeli border and a missile attack on an Israeli military jeep that seriously wounded four soldiers.
It is not clear what might trigger a ground invasion. But a strike on Tel Aviv, Israel's commercial and cultural capital, would mark a significant escalation.
While southern Israeli areas near Gaza have long coped with rocket fire, the attacks on the Tel Aviv area illustrated the significant capabilities that Hamas militants have developed. Gaza militants had previously hit Rishon Lezion before but never reached Tel Aviv, roughly 70 kilometers, or 50 miles, north of the strip.
Israel launched the offensive on Wednesday, killing the head of Hamas' militant wing and destroying dozens of rocket launchers. Israel has made special efforts to destroy launchers for Hamas' Iranian-made "Fajr" rockets, which are believed capable of flying even deeper into Israel.
Israel's military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, said the air operation has delivered a "strong blow" to militants' launching sites.
The military said its air campaign has hit 230 targets across Gaza, and its "Iron Dome" rocket defense system has intercepted some 90 incoming rockets.