On the third day of Operation Pillar of Defense, rockets again pounded deep into Israel, bringing the war to millions of people. A ground war seemed imminent, even as airstrikes on Gaza continued. The Times of Israel live-blogged developments from early Friday here. Friday’s afternoon and night’s live-blog is here, and click here for our previous live blog detailing events as they unfolded on Thursday.

PREAMBLE: And so begins day three of Operation Pillar of Defense, after a wrenching Thursday that saw central Israel drawn deep into the conflict with Hamas, three Israeli fatalities and a further escalation of hostilities.

The Israel Defense Forces says it has carried out 340 strikes against targets in the Gaza Strip since the launch of Operation Pillar of Defense, Wednesday. That tally includes 70 strikes against Hamas targets Thursday night, hours after Gazan terrorists targeted the Tel Aviv area with long range missiles. Sixteen Palestinians have been reported killed in Gaza and nearly 200 injured.

Two missiles fell near Tel Aviv at around 7 p.m., less than an hour after two missiles struck near Rishon Letzion. In all 305 rockets have struck Israel and 130 have been intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system, since the start of hostilities Wednesday.

The three people killed on the Israeli side were victims of a rocket that hit a Kiryat Malachi apartment Thursday morning. An 8-month-old infant was also seriously injured in the strike. Some 45 people have been treated by rescue services, most of those light injuries and for shock.

The rocket launches Thursday evening against Israel’s heavy populated Gush Dan region – home to some 3 million people – marked an unprecedented escalation in the ongoing conflict with Gaza.

For the first time since the Gulf War in 1991, air raid sirens rang out in the economic center of the country, sending thousands of people scrambling for shelter and bringing the realities of war outside the country’s periphery. Booms were heard in the south of the city and Holon.

The IDFs said no rockets had landed near Tel Aviv, seemingly indicating the missiles crashed into the sea.

Following the rocket strikes, the army said it had authorized the call up of 30,000 reservists, a seeming precursor to a ground-based invasion of the Strip.

Egypt’s prime minister was reported to be planning a Gaza visit on Friday; UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he’d come to Israel next week.

Palestinians have reported an Israeli air strike on a building in Beit Hanoun, in the northern Gaza Strip. Three people, including an infant, were killed in the attack, according to the reports.

Shortly thereafter, Israel identified the launching of a Grad rocket aimed at Beersheba.

The Iron Dome anti-missile system shot down two rockets from the Gaza Strip over the skies of Ashdod in the past few minutes, Channel 2 has reported.

IDF Spokesman Brig Gen Yoav Mordechai suggests that “all Hamas members, from the most junior to the most senior, act with great caution” in the coming days, as Israel carries out its “determined action” to protect its citizens from the rocket fire directed by Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

British Prime Minister David Cameron spoke with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by phone on Thursday to say that he was “extremely concerned” by the violence in Gaza, AFP reports.

According to the report, Cameron affirmed that “Hamas bears the principal responsibility for the crisis” and added that “the rocket attacks from Gaza into southern Israel by Hamas and other armed groups were completely unacceptable and that the increasing frequency of rocket attacks in recent days was the immediate cause of the situation.” He made clear that “Hamas bears the principal responsibility for crisis,” according to a spokesman for Cameron.

The Israeli Air Force carried out airstrikes on targets in the southern Gaza Strip moments ago. There are no reports yet of casualties or damage.

Ahead of the Sabbath, beginning Friday evening, Israel Radio is preparing to operate a “quiet” channel through which emergency instructions and updates will be broadcast as necessary.

The measure, which allows those who observe the Sabbath to keep their radios on throughout the day in case of emergency, is only employed during the most tense security situations.

Western activists in the Gaza Strip and members of local NGOs are reporting on social media sites that electricity has gone out in several areas of Gaza.

Among the targets of Israeli airstrikes on Thursday were electricity generators powering the homes of Hamas leaders.

Palestinians are reporting casualties in numerous Israeli strikes in northern and central Gaza.

Egyptian authorities have closed the Rafah crossing into the Gaza Strip, according to the Egypt Independent.

The crossing is an important transit point for people and goods.

CNN and Palestinian sources report “practically constant” bombardment from Israeli aircraft.

Dennis Ross, a former senior Middle East adviser to US Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, tells The Washington Post that Egypt faces a stark choice on what kind of role to play in the Gaza conflict.

“If they don’t act to get Hamas to stand down, they may end up paying a major price in terms of assistance from the outside,’’ the Post quotes Ross as saying. “So is their ideology going to trump their economic needs?”

Hundreds of soldiers from the Paratroops, Golani and Givati Brigades, as well as Armored Corps units, have been transferred to the Gaza border area for training exercises — apparently, in preparation for a possible ground incursion.

Rumors that IDF soldiers had entered the Gaza Strip, or were about to, circulated briefly in the early hours of Friday morning, but they have not been substantiated.

Egyptian officials have told Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip to institute calm, Israel Radio reports.

Various reports from Gaza claim an Israeli airstrike on a Hamas police station in Deir al-Balah.

Israel Radio reports a direct hit by a rocket on a house in the Shaar Hanegev Regional Council. The residents were not at home and no injuries have been reported; the house, however, sustained serious damage.

A rocket fired from Gaza hits a parking lot next to a residential building in the city of Ashdod. No injuries reported.

Schools in a 40-kilometer radius of Gaza are closed.

A rocket fired from Gaza lands in Beersheba. No initial reports of injuries or damage. Red alert sirens heard now in Sderot and Shaar Hanegev Regional Council.

In Sderot, residents have 15 seconds to get to a shelter or safe space once the sirens sound.

IDF to suspend strikes on the Strip for three hours during Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Kandil’s visit to Gaza today. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly agrees to the short ceasefire after Egypt requests it.

Kandil, being sent personally by President Mohammed Morsi, is scheduled to meet with Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. Four Egyptian ministers will accompany Kandil on the visit, which is meant to show solidarity with the residents of Gaza.

Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Kandil (photo credit: Youtube image grab)

Magen David Adom reports that the organization treated 54 Israelis for injuries on Thursday, the second day of Operation Pillar of Defense.

Iron Dome shoots down two rockets from Gaza over the Hof Ashkelon Regional Council, just north of the Strip.

Some 30 rockets have been launched at communities in southern Israel this morning, including 7 at the city of Ashkelon.

IDF Chief of the General Staff Benny Gantz has authorized calling up 16,000 reservists, among them Air Force and Engineering corps soldiers, ahead of a possible ground offensive in Gaza.

IDF preparing fifth Iron Dome battery for deployment.

PTA in Rishon Letzion, some 6 miles (10 kilometers) from central Tel Aviv, urges parents to keep children at home.

At least 8 rockets from Gaza have exploded this morning in the Eshkol Regional Council and in Ofakim, both in the south.

Gaza terrorists fire several rockets at the south in the past hour, mostly at the Eshkol Regional Council, where one rocket lands in the yard of a house. No injuries reported, but there is damage to the building.

Red alert sirens in Ashdod and Kiryat Malakhi, where three Israelis were killed by rocket fire on Thursday.

 

Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Kandil arrives in the Gaza Strip. It is unclear whether the reported suspension of Israeli airstrikes will take effect during Kandil’s visit, since the terms of a short ceasefire were to include the halting of rockets from Gaza.

Palestinian terrorists fire 16 rockets into the Eshkol Regional Council, just north of the Gaza Strip.

Some 40 rockets were fired into southern Israel this morning. There are no reports of injuries, but at least two houses were severely damaged in Ashdod and in the Shaar Hanegev Regional Council. The house in Shaar Hanegev suffered a direct hit.

Labor party chief Shelly Yachimovich tells Walla News that the rocket fire at central Israel on Thursday evening does not necessitate an escalation of strikes on the Gaza Strip.

Yachimovich says that Operation Pillar of Defense is currently being conducted with precision, and it has been effective in weakening Hamas and in restoring a level of deterrence.

“I give the operation, as it is right now, my full support,” she says.

Red alarm sirens sounding in Netivot, Gan Yavneh, Ashkelon and Ashdod.

At least one salvo fired in the direction of Ashdod, possibly two, reports Channel 2 News, despite a reported suspension of airstrikes during a three-hour solidarity visit to Gaza by the Egyptian prime minister.

Some 50 rockets have been fired into Israel this morning.

The IDF has resumed airstrikes in the Gaza Strip.

Rocket hits the parking lot of a shopping mall in central Ashkelon. Some damage is reported but no injuries.

A fifth Iron Dome battery will be delivered to the Israeli Air Force on Friday, reports Ynet.

The development of the battery, which was scheduled for completion in two months, was pushed up due to the current circumstances, according to the Defense Ministry.

Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Kandil holds press conference with Hamas Prime Minister, Ismail Haniyeh, during a three-hour visit to the Gaza Strip.

Haniyeh tells reporters, “This historic visit will lead to the improvement of conditions for the people of Gaza. It will be impossible from now on to view the situation in Gaza as disconnected from the region.

“The message to the West and to the United States is that they must act in order to stop this bloodshed,” he adds.

Haniyeh thanks Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood for their support.

The Hamas chief says he is confident in a Palestinian victory, and that the aggression will end thanks to the efforts of Egypt and others around the world.

Rocket fire from Gaza continues. One rocket hit a television news truck in the city of Netivot, causing no injuries.

A second rocket hit a vehicle in the Eshkol region. The vehicle was completely destroyed, but the passengers managed to exit in time and are awaiting rescue crews.

Iron Dome intercepted four rockets fired towards Ashkelon.

Palestinian news sources are reporting that one person died and three people were injured from an Israeli airstrike in the northern Gaza Strip.

The IDF Spokesman’s Office denied that the IAF carried out an attack there.

Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Kandil, in Gaza, pledges his country’s support to the Palestinian people.

“Egypt after the revolution will work toward an extended calm, and afterwards for the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital. That is the only way to achieve stability in the region,” says Kandil.

The Egyptian prime minister urged all Palestinian factions to unite. “The strength of the Palestinan people lies in its unity. That is the way to achieve victory,” he says.

Partial closure of roads 4, 10 and 25 in southern Israel in light of the security situation in the area.

Iron Dome has made over 130 successful interceptions of rockets fired from the Gaza Strip over the last two days, according to the IDF.

Ashdod mayor Yehiel Lasri says “Iron Dome doing its job, but not 100 percent.”

Sirens sounding in Eshkol region.

More than 50 rockets fired from Gaza at southern Israel since this morning.

Major protest being planned in Egypt against Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, reports Channel 2 News.

Police in Jerusalem bracing for possible demonstrations after Friday prayers at the Temple Mount. Israeli authorities have limited admission to men over 40.

Palestinians pray outside the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem (photo credit: Sliman Khader/Flash90/File)

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. (photo credit: Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP)

The EU’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton expresses “deep concern” over escalating violence.

“The rocket attacks by Hamas and other factions in Gaza which began

this current crisis are totally unacceptable for any government and must stop. Israel has the right to protect its population from these kinds of attacks. I urge Israel to ensure that its response is proportionate,” she said in a statement.

“I spoke with leaders in the region including PM Netanyahu and with the Egyptian President’s office and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. I stressed the need to prevent a further escalation and more loss of life. In my discussions I made the point that we must move forward in finding a solution to the Middle East conflict so that millions of people in the region can finally live in peace and security. I hope Egyptian Prime Minister Kandil in his visit to Gaza today will be able calm the situation.”

Palestinian sources report that Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Kandil’s visit to the Gaza Strip was cut short due to security concerns.

Homefront Defense Minister Avi Dichter said earlier that as long as Kandil is in Gaza, his safety would not be endangered.

The IDF resumed airstrikes during the Egyptian PM’s visit, after a brief respite, in light of continued rockets being fired at southern Israeli communities.

Home Front Defense Minister Avi Dichter says he expects hundreds of rockets per day to be launched at Israel from Gaza over the coming days.

Speaking in Sderot, Dichter said, “All that is requested is that people do the simplest thing and the thing that saves the most lives: Head to a protected space” when sirens sound.

Avi Dichter speaks at a press conference in Tel Aviv, Israel (photo credit: AP/File)

Eight terror tunnels in Gaza, near the Israeli border, destroyed by the IAF overnight, reports Channel 2 News.

Thousands of worshippers have taken to the streets of Tehran following Friday prayers in protest at the “Zionist crimes in Gaza,” Iranian semi-official Fars News Agency reports.

According to Fars, the protesters are chanting “Death to Israel” and “Death to America.”

Similar protests are reportedly taking place at various other cities across the country.

Iranian Revolutionary News Agency reports that Ayatollah Seyed Ahmad Khatami told worshippers in Tehran during a Friday prayer sermon that ”the blood-soaking and tyrant Zionist regime once again attacked Gaza. The point is: The dirty life of the usurper regime is linked with such brutalities.”

Hundreds of Israeli Arabs are protesting the IDF operation in Gaza in the towns of Umm al-Fahm and Qalansawe, Ynet reports. They are waving Palestinian and black flags and demanding an end to the attack.

Israeli Arab members of Knesset and Sheikh Raed Saleh, the head of the northern branch of the Islamist movement, are present at the protests, according to Ynet.

Additional protests are expected to be held in other Israeli Arab towns this afternoon.

Hamas is responsible for the outbreak of violence with Israel, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Friday, and she has called on Cairo to convince Hamas to end hostilities, AFP reports.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday, November 15. (photo credit: AP/Michael Sohn)

“The federal chancellor calls on the Egyptian government to use its influence on Hamas to push it towards a moderation of the violence,” Merkel’s deputy spokesman Georg Streiter told reporters.

“There is no justification for firing rockets on Israel which are causing massive suffering to the Israeli population,” Streiter added.

Merkel has joined several other Western countries, including the US, in condemning the Palestinian group.

Air raid sirens sound across the Tel Aviv metropolitan area. Residents are advised to take cover.

This is the second time since the 1991 Gulf War that air raid sirens have gone off in the center of the country, the first time being last night.

There’s an explosion outside Tel Aviv after the rocket lands in an open area. No injuries or damage are reported.

Earlier, terrorists in the Gaza Strip launched a volley of rockets at the southern city of Beersheba and the Eshkol border region. A rocket landed in a parking lot in Beersheba, and three people were injured by a rocket that hit near Eshkol.

The Iron Dome downed four rockets over Beersheba in the latest salvo.

Ynet cites Palestinian sources reporting that Hamas’s security forces are planning to publicly execute a Gaza man suspected of collaborating with Israel.

According to the report, the man supposedly admitted to helped direct IDF fire at rocket launchers in the Gaza Strip and forwarded information about the location and movement of terrorist leaders to Israeli intelligence.

Hamas TV and radio stations in the Gaza Strip are reportedly claiming that the Islamist group launched rockets at Jerusalem and struck the Knesset.

Residents of Jerusalem have not reported any explosions, and a Twitter user in the capital says that the parliament building is safe and sound.

A jeep carrying two press photographers in the Eshkol Regional Council was likely hit by an anti-tank missile fired from the Gaza Strip, Ynet reports.

The photographers were rescued by the region’s chief security officer, who arrived at the scene with his vehicle after rescue workers were unable to reach the jeep due to fear of rocket fire.

Israel Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld says it appears that the rocket launched from Gaza toward Tel Aviv landed in the Mediterranean, according to the Associated Press.

Three red alert sirens sound in Ashdod in the last hour.

Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi says Israel’s attacks on the Gaza Strip constitute “a blatant aggression against humanity,” reports MENA.

Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi (photo credit: AP/Maya Alleruzzo)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has completed a meeting with President Shimon Peres, in which the two men were advised of rocket fire toward central and southern Israel.

The prime minister is now participating in a security assessment.

Tel Aviv City Hall states that all public shelters in the city are now open for use by citizens.

The port city of Ashdod is under rocket attack, air raid sirens are blaring across the city. Red alert sirens are also sounding in Sderot and towns adjacent to the Gaza Strip.

Residents report at least six explosions. At least one rocket was shot down by Iron Dome

Ashdod is Israel’s principal port and one of Israel’s most populous cities. It is home to over 200,000 people.

A rooftop view of the coastal city of Ashdod. (photo credit: Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons)

Air raid sirens are sounding in the coastal city of Ashkelon and across the towns and kibbutzim adjacent to the Gaza Strip. Heavy bombardment of the Gaza-adjacent area is being reported.

The Iron Dome missile battery stationed near Ashkelon shot down an incoming rocket, and several others were reported intercepted near Ashdod and Gan Yavne.

The IDF Spokesperson tells The Times of Israel that since Operation Pillar of Defense began nearly 48 hours ago, the Israeli Air Force has carried out approximately 500 airstrikes against targets in the Gaza Strip.

IDF reports that of the over 500 rockets fired at Israel since Wednesday, only 26 have landed in urban areas.

The Iron Dome anti-rocket system has intercepted a total of 153 rockets fired by Hamas and other terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip — 55 in the past day.

Since Wednesday, 335 rockets have struck Israel, 67 of which hit on Friday.

A massive pro-Palestinian protest has taken place in East Jerusalem at the Damascus Gate of the Old City. Police and Border Police officers began dispersing demonstrators.

Israeli media reports indicate that several arrests have been made.

Palestinians protest in support of the people of the Gaza Strip and against Israel's military operations, at the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem's Old City, on Friday (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Palestinian Ma’an News reports that Hamas has executed an alleged Israeli collaborator in the Gaza Strip.

According to the report, the man’s body has been brought to Shifa Hospital with papers containing his alleged confession to have assisted Israeli intelligence pinpoint rocket launcher sites and movement of terrorist leaders.

Earlier reports indicated a mortar landing in the Eshkol border region and wounded three Israelis. Ynet reports that the three wounded were IDF soldiers.

One soldier’s condition is reported a moderate, and the other two were lightly wounded by shrapnel. The three soldiers were airlifted to Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba for treatment.

The coastal city of Ashdod is again under rocket attack, and sirens are sounding across the city and in nearby Beer Tuvia. Air raid sirens are also going off in the southern city of Beersheba.

A rocket exploded near Ashkelon and another in the Sha’ar Hanegev region bordering the Gaza Strip. Two other rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile system.

Ynet updates an earlier report of damage being inflicted to a home in Beer Tuvia. According to the site, shrapnel from an Iron Dome missile that had intercepted a rocket fired from Gaza landed in the living room of a house in the town. No injuries are reported.

Thousands of Egyptians are protesting in Cairo and Alexandria against Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza.

Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood called for the demonstrations, which come on the day that Egypt’s Prime Minister Hesham Kandil traveled to Gaza in a symbolic show of support for the territory’s Hamas rulers.

Egypt has recalled its ambassador from Tel Aviv in protest of the Israeli operation.

Meretz Chairwoman Zahava Galon says that Israel should begin immediate negotiations with Hamas to reach a ceasefire and bring an end to Operation Pillar of Defense.

The opposition MK argues that Egypt’s Prime Minister Hesham Kandil’s visit to Gaza on Friday must be used as a springboard for a strategic end to hostilities, and that it signals an opportunity for a negotiated long-term ceasefire with Hamas.

Zahava Galon during a Knesset meeting (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“In the framework of negotiating a long-term calm, Hamas would keep its [remaining stockpile of] weapons and missiles and will be obliged not to rearm. Israel, in turn, would consider granting Gaza leniencies, such as a partial lifting of the blockade, opening border crossings for commerce, and considering the option of employing Palestinian workers [from Gaza] in Israel,” she advised.

Quiet has returned to Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate, according to a resident on the scene. Earlier, pro-Palestinian demonstrators clashed with police forces in the plaza outside the iconic Old City gate.

Merav Ceren tweets that the plaza outside the Damascus Gate was empty and that both police and protesters had left the area. A security source at the Western Wall reports that the area surrounding the Muslim Quarter was calm in advance of the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath and Friday night prayers.