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The Latest: Both Sides 'Ready To Escalate' As Israel And Hamas Fire Away

Israeli tanks on the border with the Gaza Strip earlier today. Israeli officials have said they are prepared to mount a ground offensive.
Menahem Kahana
AFP/Getty Images
Israeli tanks on the border with the Gaza Strip earlier today. Israeli officials have said they are prepared to mount a ground offensive.
NPR's Anthony Kuhn talks with Steve Inskeep

Even though there were talks of a ceasefire to coincide with the visit of the Egyptian prime minister to Gaza, today, the fighting has instead escalated.

Avital Leibovich, a spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces confirmed that for the first time, rockets fired from Gaza hit an area outside Jerusalem. The Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, who leads the West Bank, said that the "escalation is at its peak," both in Gaza and out of Gaza.

We'll be following this story closely throughout the day. We'll bring you updates on this post, so be sure to refresh the page. But if you want a quick recap of day click here.

Update at 6:52 p.m. ET. Netayahu Thanks Americans For 'Iron Dome':

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called President Obama to update him on the situation there.

According to the White House, Netanyahu "expressed his deep appreciation to the President and the American people for the United States' investment in the Iron Dome rocket and mortar defense system, which has effectively defeated hundreds of incoming rockets from Gaza and saved countless Israeli lives."

The President, the White House said, "reiterated U.S. support for Israel's right to defend itself, and expressed regret over the loss of Israeli and Palestinian civilian lives. The two leaders discussed options for de-escalating the situation."

Update at 6:42 p.m. ET. Death Toll:

The Washington Post reports updates us on the death toll:

"As the violence intensified, the death toll on both sides rose. Gaza medical officials said 18 Palestinians there had been killed since the offensive began, including an 8-month-old girl whose house was shelled Thursday afternoon, according to her grandfather.

"Two Israeli men and one woman were killed Thursday morning when a rocket slammed into their fourth-story apartment in the working-class city town of Kiryat Malakhi, about 18 miles north of Gaza. The attack left a baby in critical condition, Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said."

Update at 3:38 p.m. ET. Reservist Cap Raised:

The Jerusalem Post reports that Defense Minister Ehud Barak has approved the military's request to allow up to 75,000 reservists to be mobilized. That number is up from the 30,000 requested, yesterday.

Update at 2 p.m. ET. UN Chief Urges Restraint:

U.N. Chief Ban Ki Moon urged Hamas to stop launching rockets toward Israel and it asked Israel to exercise restraint.

The AP reports:

"Ban Ki-moon has been calling international and Middle East leaders in a bid to de-escalate the crisis that erupted this week and intends to visit the region shortly, his spokesman said. Martin Nesirky said the secretary-general "is extremely concerned about the continued violence in Gaza and Israel, and deeply worried by the rising cost in terms of civilian lives."

"'He urgently appeals to all concerned to do everything under their command to stop this dangerous escalation and restore calm. Rocket attacks are unacceptable and must stop at once. Israel must exercise maximum restraint,' Nesirky told reporters."

Update at 12:14 p.m. ET. The Story So Far:

-- A rocket from Gaza hit an area outside Jerusalem. Ofir Gendelman, a spokesman for the Israeli prime minister, said there were no casualties or damage reported.

-- Israel, who says they began operation "Pillar of Defense" in response to the more than 1,000 rockets fired by Hamas into Israel last month, said they are "ready to initiate a ground operation in Gaza" if they decide it's needed.

-- In a press conference Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called for "national unity and reconciliation." By that he means that Palestinians in the West Bank and those in Gaza should negotiate through one voice.

But while Abbas criticized Israel for its "aggression," he sounded more conciliatory than Hamas, which controls Gaza.

"We hope Israel understands that security cannot be established without peace," Abbas said, according to Al-Jazeera. "They must work towards ending the bloodshed, and being convinced that peace is a necessity."

-- According to The Associated Press, as of early today at least 19 people — "militants and civilians" — had been killed in Gaza during this week's flare up. Three are reported dead in Israel.

Update at 10:15 a.m. ET. Rocket Hits Hear Jerusalem:

"Confirmed: a rocket was fired a few minutes ago from #Gaza to an area outside Jerusalem," tweets Avital Leibovich, a spokeswoman for the Israel Defense Forces.

Israel Radio is reporting there were casualties, Reuters says. Still, this is an important development: it shows that the brigades in Gaza have rockets capable of reaching both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. An Israeli response is likely.

Note: Among the other ways to follow what's happening are the Twitter hashtags #GazaUnderAttack and #IsraelUnderFire. You'll find posts from the two sides of the conflict.

Update at 9:50 a.m. ET. Sirens In Jerusalem:

Multiple news outlets are reporting that air raid sirens are blaring in Jerusalem. As we reported earlier, the Alqassam Brigades had claimed they were firing in that direction.

Our original post continues:

Though there was talk about a possible ceasefire today while Egypt's prime minister was visiting Gaza, more rockets were fired at Israel from Hamas-controlled territory and Israel has responded with an airstrike on the home of a Hamas commander in southern Gaza, The Guardian reports.

NPR's Anthony Kuhn, who is in Gaza City, said earlier on Morning Edition that neither side seems willing at this time to de-escalate. Instead, he told host Steve Inskeep, "they're both ready to escalate." Israeli officials have said they are "ready to initiate a ground operation in Gaza" if they decide it's needed.

According to The Associated Press, as of early today at least 19 people — "militants and civilians" — had been killed in Gaza during this week's flare up. There have been three deaths reported in Israel. About 450 rockets have been fired from Gaza into Israel. A few have reached as far as the outskirts of Tel Aviv.

Both the Israeli Defense Force and the Alqassam Brigades in Gaza continue to post on Twitter about what they're doing. The militant force is claiming it launched "a long range missile towards the #Israeli #Kneset Building in Jerusalem." The IDF says "67 rockets fired from Gaza hit #Israel today (335 since Nov. 14). Iron Dome intercepted 55 rockets today."

While in Gaza, Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Kandil "denounced Israel's attacks on the Palestinian territory and said Cairo would try to secure a ceasefire," Reuters reports. "Egypt will spare no effort ... to stop the aggression and to achieve a truce," Kandil said.

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Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.
Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.
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