The IDF stepped up its airstrikes on the Gaza Strip on Saturday, the fourth day of Operation Pillar of Defense. Rocket fire from the Strip persisted, with Gaza terrorists directly hitting an apartment building in Ashdod and three other houses, injuring 10. By Saturday night, some 100 rockets had been fired into Israel (and 600 since Wednesday), including two at Tel Aviv, one of which was intercepted by the newly deployed fifth Iron Dome battery, placed in central Israel, where it can protect the residents of Tel Aviv and its environs. The Palestinians appeared to be taking the first steps in a diplomatic push, via Egypt, toward a ceasefire. Palestinians reported 42 killed from Israeli airstrikes; Israel had carried out over 300 such strikes in the past two days, and 950 in all to date. The Israeli death toll was three, and one seriously injured. Here’s how The Times of Israel live-blogged developments. Click here for Sunday’s live-blog of day five’s developments.

Click here for part 1 of Saturday’s live blog coverage.

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The Israeli Air Force destroyed a rocket launcher that shot at the center of Israel. It was an Iranian rocket, with a range of 60 km, that Islam Jihad assembles in Gaza, according to Channel 10 News’ analyst Alon Ben-David on Twitter.

Iron Dome shoots down two rockets over Beersheba.

Egypt, Turkey, and Qatar are working toward an informal ultimatum for Israel regarding Pillar of Defense, according to Channel 2 News’ analyst Ehud Yaari.

As of Saturday afternoon, Ben Gurion International Airport is functioning as normal. Flights arriving and departing unaffected by the conflict. At the Israel Airports Authority, word is that there are no delays and no changes in schedule.

Hamas officials claim Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must stand trial for war crimes, Iran’s Press TV reports.

Air-raid sirens are going off in the Greater Tel Aviv area for the third consecutive day. Residents are advised to seek cover.

Israel’s Channel 2 reports successful interception of rocket fired at Tel Aviv by the Iron Dome missile battery. A second rocket landed in an unpopulated area.

The IDF installed the new battery in the Gush Dan region just earlier today, after Hamas targeted the central city twice in the last two days.

The Iron Dome battery that was deployed to central Israel on Saturday (photo credit: Alon Besson/Ministry of Defense/Flash90)

Magen David Adom reports no injuries or damage in the latest, and third rocket attack on Tel Aviv.

Channel 2′s Ehud Yaari says that the missile fired at Tel Aviv moments ago was not a Fajr, but one of Hamas’s “upgraded Kassams” similar to the ones fired towards Jerusalem on Friday.

Hamas has claimed responsibility and says it fired a long-range Fajr-5 missile at Tel Aviv.

Iron Dome intercepts two rockets fired at Sderot. Rockets fired towards other southern towns. No injuries or damage reported.

Since the beginning of Operation Pillar of Defense on Wednesday, there have been three Israeli fatalities and several injuries — one serious, two medium, and 15 light. Another 10 individuals were injured in rocket-related incidents such as falling while running toward a safe room. Another 150 were treated for shock.

The IDF has carried out more than 800 targeted airstrikes in Gaza since the start of the operation resulting in 38 Palestinian fatalities and 345 injured.

Hamas and other groups, including Islamic Jihad, have fired upwards of 600 rockets at Israel. Of those launched, 30 landed in residential areas; the others were intercepted by Iron Dome or landed in open areas.

The Eshkol region and Ashdod have suffered steady, ongoing rocket attacks since the late morning. Just now, Iron Dome intercepted two projectiles fired at Ashdod.

NBC News Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel tweets about what it’s like in Gaza:

@RichardEngel

Richard Engel

So many drones over #Gaza city it sounds like everyone is out mowing their lawns in the dark

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti Saturday afternoon. He will also speak with other foreign leaders Saturday to update them on Pillar of Defense.

During their conversation, Monti expressed “great concern” over the escalation in Gaza. He called for “a truce between the parties as soon as possible, to bring to an end the fighting and allow dialogue and peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians to begin again,” AFP reported.

At least two sirens ringing, within minutes of each other, in Beersheba.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is speaking in Cairo. In his address, Erdogan expressed solidarity with the people of Gaza and support of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi’s decision to remove his ambassador from Tel Aviv.

Erdogan accused Israel of turning the region into a “pool of blood,” adding that “every drop of Palestinian blood spills from the arteries of all Muslims.”

During his visit in Egypt, Erdogan is scheduled to participate in a summit with Morsi, Hamas political chief Haled Mashaal and other Arab leaders to work towards reaching a ceasefire with Israel.

Channel 2 Arab affairs analyst Ehud Yaari says the Arab world is interested in attaining a ceasefire as soon as possible.

Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaking in Ankara, in October (photo credit: AP)

The demonstration against Pillar of Defense in Nazareth, an Arab town in northern Israel, drew 500 attendees.

Ex-chief of staff Dan Halutz, on Channel 2, says it’s time to be looking for a political solution. Some kind of an agreement is needed, he says, and it will need to ensure quiet in the south. He says Hamas is making “victory claims” and that people who claim victory are indicating that they are ready to end the round of conflict.

Halutz was chief of staff at the time of the Second Lebanon War, widely regarded as a failure. He resigned in the wake of that conflict.

Reuters reporting that US President Barack Obama called Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan about bringing an end to the fighting between Gaza and Israel.

Update from the sirens 30 minutes ago in Beersheba: Five rockets were launched at the city; four were intercepted by Iron Dome and one fell in an open area. No injuries have been reported.

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai stresses the importance of maintaining composure during and after rocket attacks.

Speaking on Channel 2, Huldai is expressing thanks to the Iron Dome operators who successfully intercepted an “upgraded Kassam” rocket fired at the central city an hour ago.

“Serious people take these threats seriously, but it is wrong to create false drama,” says Huldai.

The mayor says city schools will be open tomorrow despite the rockets and urges residents to carry on their lives as usual.

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai (Photo credit: Gideon Markowicz/FLASH90)

A Gazan (twitter handle: @pcangel_25) posts a picture of a building that allegedly collapsed in Yarmouk Refugee Camp after being struck by the Israeli Air Force:

@pcangel_25

ȜßǿOĐ

building, which has just collapsed on its occupants in#Yarmouk_camp after being hit by a missile @ http://t.co/1ET92udw

Two rockets fired from Gaza at Ashdod were intercepted by Iron Dome.

Channel 2′s Ehud Yaari reports that Hamas has rejected an Egyptian proposed ceasefire agreement. In exchange to putting down its arms, Hamas is reportedly demanding a complete removal of Israel’s blockade of Gaza and international obligations that Israel will cease from conducting targeted killings.

The next stage, according to Yaari, is a meeting of Arab foreign ministers set to be held in Cairo tomorrow, during which a second proposal will be drafted.

Hamas suporters rally in the West Bank on Friday, November 16 (photo credit: Flash90)

Hamas leader Moussa Abu Marzouk says his organization is prepared for an IDF ground incursion and threatens to kill any Israeli soldier who sets foot in Gaza.

A new Hamas video that’s being circulated warns Israelis, in Hebrew, of violence to come. In the digitized-video, set to tense music, the voice tells Israelis, “We miss the suicide bombings,” and continues in both spoken and written text in Hebrew, “We’ll see you on the buses, and at the cafes,” a reference to previous Palestinian suicide attacks that occurred at popular Israeli hangouts.

Five rockets fired at Ashdod. One hits road in town near the city. Four others intercepted by Iron Dome. No injuries or damage reported.

Jewish Agency emissaries in communities around the globe are organizing rallies in support of Israel, the semi-governmental organization said in a press release Saturday evening.

Demonstrations are planned for Sunday in San Diego, which is a sister city to the Shaar Hanegev Regional Council, as well as in Melbourne, Sydney and Perth in Australia. Dozens more rallies are also planned in the coming days in other cities.

The Agency is also encouraging people to wear red in solidarity with Israelis within rocket range, an homage to the red alert siren that sounds every time a missile is fired from Gaza. In addition, the Australasian Union of Jewish Students are trying to incubate a viral campaign for Israel supporters to change their Facebook profile pictures to photos of themselves wearing red.

Israel has thus far mostly been on the butt end of rallies around the world, which have gathered hundreds in cities around the world to demonstrate in support of Gazans. Protests have taken place in Cairo, Washington, D.C., New York, Jerusalem, Istanbul, Seoul, Rome, Vancouver and other cities since the launch of Operation Pillar of Defense on Wednesday.

IDF confirms that a senior Hamas commander involved in smuggling operations between Egypt and the Gaza Strip was killed in an air strike.

Earlier the IDF killed Mohammed Kalab, a senior operative in Hamas’s air defense forces.

A Channel 10 News analyst says a senior Cabinet official told him, off the record, that within the next 48 hours key-decision makers will decide whether or not to pursue a ground incursion in Gaza.

In two days’ time, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon should have arrived in Israel; his aim is to secure a ceasefire.

 

The senior official also told Channel 10 News that a big part of the decision about a ground incursion depends on the international community’s stance.  If Israel feels that a real change regarding Hamas can be made to halt rocket fire while still allowing for a mass military operation it it doesn’t, the ground incursion will be postponed, with great probability.

Arab League meeting ends in Cairo with a call for Israel’s leaders to be tried for war crimes by the international community.

General-Secretary of the Arab League Nabil Elaraby says that Israel shouldn’t think countries that experienced the Arab Spring will only focus on their own internal issues. (source Ynet)

Southern Command head Tal Russo tells reporters that the IDF will continue to act until it reaches its goals, hitting terror groups in Gaza and Hamas leaders, with a ground operation in the offing.

He says there are still many targets that the IDF has not hit, and that terror groups in the strip have an “impressive” arsenal of weapons and missiles.

“Deterrence is the main part of this operation and we will return in order to bring back a normal life to the south.”

He also thanked the residents of the south and IDF soldiers and said the operation would take time.

Amid international diplomatic efforts to bring the conflict to a halt, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius is said to be heading this way.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, left, speaks with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Paris in July (photo credit: AP/Brendan Smialowski)

He’ll visit Jerusalem and Ramallah for meetings in relation to Operation Pillar of Defense. Fabius (whose parents incidentally were Jewish and converted to Catholicism) is scheduled to meet with his Israeli counterpart Avigdor Liberman.

Channel 2 is examining the political consequences of Pillar of Defense. For now, there’s wide consensus in Israel in favor of the resort to force. “If it ends now, it’ll be seen as a considerable achievement by Israel.” If not, consensus may start to weaken, Amit Segal, the channel’s political reporter, says.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu telephones the heads of state in European countries including Germany, Italy, Greece, and Czechoslovakia.

Netanyahu tells Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel that no country in the world would agree to have its citizens under persistent threat from rocket attacks. Merkel is reportedly in contact with Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi to encourage him to continue efforts for negotiating a ceasefire. (source Ynet)

Qassam rocket explodes on the edge of Hof Ashkelon region community. No injuries reported.

AFP reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have agreed that a ceasefire is needed, “as soon as possible,” citing sources in the German chancellery.

International pressure on Israel and Gaza to halt hostilities in the wake of Operation Pillar of Defense has ramped up recently and will likely continue to intensify over the coming days, especially with the visit of UN chief Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday.

The agency also reported that Merkel spoke with Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi. Channel 2 earlier reported that Hamas had rejected an Egyptian ceasefire proposal.

Israeli media reports Home Front Command to station 20 public mini shelters in Ashkelon on Sunday due to the increased rocket fire on the city.

Workers place new bomb shelters in schools and day care centers in the southern Israeli town of Ashkelon. April, 2009. 20 more shelters were due to be installed on Sunday 18th November after increased Hamas rocket fire at the city. (photo credit: Edi Israel/Flash90)

Kerem Shalom border crossing between Israel and Gaza to be opened tomorrow morning to allow the transfer of food and medical supplies into the Hamas controlled enclave. The arrangements for opening the crossing made in coordination with the IDF, representatives of the Palestinian Authority and international mediators.

The last hour and a half has seen rocket fire from the Gaza Strip slow to a trickle, a possible sign that Hamas and Islamic Jihad are beginning to feel the effect of IDF strikes.

The army has hit some 950 targets in the Gaza Strip since the beginning of the operation, including symbols of Hamas power, such as the prime minister’s office, in the last day. They have also taken out a number of rocket launchers and missile arsenals.

Speaking to reporters about an hour ago, Southern Command head Tal Russo said the army had wiped out much of Hamas’s arsenal, especially their long range rockets.

Still, 150 rockets were fired at Israel Saturday, four of which hit homes. Ten people were lightly injured in the attacks. The total Israeli death toll is three, with dozens more injured, since the beginning of the operation.

Palestinians report that 40 people in the Strip have been killed, including 17 civilians, and hundreds more injured.

On Saturday, the New York Times reported on the death of Gazan Aiman Abu Wardah as he returned from a shopping trip, mistakenly thinking a ceasefire had gone into effect, as well as a neighbor. The newspaper wrote that given the size of the explosion, however, the two were more likely killed by an errant Hamas rocket than an Israeli strike.

 

Israel carries out targeted strike on a terrorist in Gaza Strip. Identity of those killed not yet reported. Local television from Gaza is showing a destroyed vehicle that was the target of the attack.

Four Grad missiles intercepted by Iron Dome on their way to Ashdod.

Alert sirens sound in Ashdod, Ashkelon, the Yavne region and in the Yoav Regional Council. At least three rockets reported shot down near Ashdod by Iron Dome.

Police to launch nation-wide search for West Bank residents who are currently inside Israel’s pre-1967 borders without a permit. Security forces are concerned that Palestinians angry over the Gaza offensive may try to carry out terror attacks inside Israel. Earlier Saturday, Hamas began circulating a video warning of a return to suicide bombings against Israelis.

Home Front cancels studies on Sunday in schools and colleges within a 40 km (25 mile) distance of Gaza Strip. However, studies in Tel Aviv will be held as usual, despite the fact that the city was targeted by Hamas over the weekend.

The White House has continued to defend Israel in its conflict with Gaza, even as pressure grows for a lull in fighting.

American President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are in agreement that a de-escalation of the violence is preferred, provided that Hamas stops sending rocket into Israel, deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters during the president’s flight on Air Force One to Asia.

Rhodes said the US believes “the precipitating factor for the conflict was the rocket fire coming out of Gaza. We believe Israel has a right to defend itself, and they’ll make their own decisions about the tactics they use in that regard.”

“These rockets have been fired into Israeli civilian areas and territory for some time now. So Israelis have endured far too much of a threat from these rockets for far too long, and that is what led the Israelis to take the action that they did in Gaza,” he added. (Source: AP)

Palestinians report two people have been killed in an airstrike on a vehicle in the Gaza Strip. Hamas TV showed people crowded around a burned out red car. It is not clear who was in the car or who the Israeli Defense Forces may have been targeting. The two deaths bring the Palestinian death toll to 42.

Red alert sirens are being heard in the Sha’ar Hanegev and Sdot Henegev regional councils.

Sirens wail in Netivot. Initial media reports suggest several missiles shot down by Iron Dome near the city.

Oded Kdoshim of Holon, a suburb of Tel Aviv, captured the interception of a rocket at 4:33 p.m. on Saturday by the Iron Dome battery mobilized outside the city over the weekend. A second rocket landed in an unpopulated area.

Channel 2′s Arab affairs analyst Ehud Yaari said that the missiles fired at Tel Aviv were not Fajrs, but rather “upgraded Kassams” similar to the ones fired toward Jerusalem on Friday.

Hundreds of people are rallying in Tel Aviv’s Habima Square against the conflict with Gaza.

Holding signs reading “No fly zone over Palestine,” and “children in Gaza and Sderot want to live,” the protesters demonstrated against  Israel’s Pillar of Defense operation, which is threatening to escalate into a ground war.

Rallying against Pillar of Defense in Tel Aviv. (photo credit: Yuval Ben-Ami)

A number of pro-Palestinian NGOs took part and similar rallies were held in Haifa and Jerusalem.

Channel 2 analyst Ehud Yaari says Arab media outlets are reporting Israel and Hamas may be closing in on a ceasefire. According to the report, which is unconfirmed and based on sources close to Hamas, an Israeli representative is on his way to Cairo to work out the deal.

Included in the agreement would be the opening of Gaza crossings and an end to the blockade on the Strip in exchange for a ceasefire, Yaari said.

Yaari earlier reported that Hamas had rejected an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire deal, and were demanding an end to the blockade and to Israel’s policy of carrying out targeted killings.

Times of Israel Arab affairs reporter Elhanan Miller notes that a Palestinian news agency, Donia Al-Watan, reported Saturday evening that Hamas has agreed on a ceasefire brokered by Egypt, Turkey and Qatar. The ceasefire is supposed to take effect at midnight following a final agreement by Israel. The report is unsupported by other sources.

A rocket has landed in an open area next to a town in the Sha’ar Hanegev region. No injuries or damage reported.

Ynet reports that ‘senior government sources’ flatly deny that Israeli representatives are on their way to Cairo to finalize details for a ceasefire. Rumors still circulating in Arab media that a ceasefire will begin at midnight.

After nearly an hour of relative quiet out of Gaza, Israeli media sources are citing Arab reports that a ceasefire may start at midnight.

While details remain unclear, reports say that Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan will sign on as guarantors to the agreement. US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin have also reportedly been asked to guarantee the deal.

Earlier, Morsi hinted that a ceasefire may be close, during a joint press conference with Erdogan.

Jerusalem earlier denied reports that a ceasefire was in the works and that an Israeli representative was en route to Cairo.

Hamas’s demands for a ceasefire reportedly include opening up the Gaza border crossings and ending the Israeli blockade on the Palestinian enclave.

Haaretz reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told US President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel that Israel would be ready for a ceasefire if the rocket attacks on Israel completely cease.

Meanwhile, Ynet news says Israeli officials confirmed that Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan are attempting to broker a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. The source added that the elements were not yet present to allow for an end to hostilities.

Channel 2 reports that Arab Druze families in the north of Israel are opening their homes to accept guests from the war-torn south seeking a respite from the rocket attacks.

As the barrage of rockets increased over the past few days families across the country volunteered to host people from southern communities. Now residents of the Arab village of Sachnin and the Druze village of Beit Jhan are also hosting Jewish families who want to escape the turmoil in the south. A small number of families from Beersheba and Ashdod are now staying in homes and bread and breakfast locations in the two villages.