Live blog (now closed): Operation Pillar of Defense, Day 7, Part 1LATEST: Boom audible in capital; head of Hamas armed wing warns Israel against ground op

Rockets pound country, but Israel to hold off on land war

US secretary of state to visit Jerusalem, Ramallah, Cairo; Iron Dome shoots down at least nine rockets over Beersheba; ministers reportedly agree to give diplomatic track time; Israel destroys Gaza bank; America sends warships to the region, preparing to evacuate its citizens; Ban Ki-moon expected in Israel on Tuesday

Soldiers inspecting a home hit by a missile in Beersheba Tuesday. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Soldiers inspecting a home hit by a missile in Beersheba Tuesday. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Our current live blog, updating events with Operation Pillar of Defense deep into its seventh day, is here.

This live blog, tracking developments of Operation Pillar of Defense during the early part of Tuesday, its seventh day, is now closed.  With reports of a possible ceasefire, ministers are said to have put off a ground offensive to give diplomacy time. The IDF pounded Gaza overnight, and the south has absorbed dozens of rocket strikes since sunrise.

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PREAMBLE: Will Israel and Hamas rest on the seventh day, or continue to exchange fire? After six days of intense fighting, Israel’s top ministers convened Monday night to discuss whether to pursue a ceasefire or go ahead with a ground operation. Jerusalem says it is interested in a diplomatic solution, but wants Hamas to lay down its arms first. Hamas says it will keep fighting until Israel agrees to its terms.

While rocket fire out of Gaza waned slightly, to about 140 rockets shot at Israel over the day, the terror experienced by Israel’s southern residents did not. Two schools in Ashkelon took hits from missiles, and towns from Sderot to Beersheba were targeted by missiles. No serious injuries were suffered, though, with several people lightly wounded by rocket fire.

In Gaza, Israel hit a building where local and foreign media have offices, killing four senior members of Islamic Jihad. The death toll in the strip rose over 100, with many of them civilians.

International efforts have continued to shepherd Israel and Hamas toward a ceasefire. While Israel weighs the terms, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is expected in Jerusalem Tuesday, and his visit will likely be aimed at pushing Israel away from a ground operation.

Rockets fired at Beersheba and Ofakim around midnight land in open areas, no injuries or damage are reported.

Channel 2′s Ohad Hemo says Monday’s anti-Israel demonstrations in the West Bank drew thousands and were described by some participants as the biggest and angriest in 10 years.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland withstood the badgering of a very confrontational Associated Press reporter in the daily press briefing, remaining calm while Matthew Lee accuses the State Department of “being silent when people are dying left and right” in the Gaza Strip.

Matthew Lee at first criticizes Nuland and the State Department for refusing to take a stand against Israel and its airstrikes against Gazan terrorists, then seems to switch tack and try to get Nuland to publicly rebuke Turkey for its harsh language against Israel.

“I am not going to get into a public spitting match with allies on either side,” Nuland responds.

An incredulous Lee then asks Nuland whether letting Turkey’s comments slide — or, conversely, continuing to support Israel over the Palestinians — is an appropriate course of action while “hundreds of people [are] dying every day.”

The last comment is especially odd, considering that the Palestinian-reported death toll in over a week of violence is approximately 100.

Ma’an reports an Israeli airstrike on the home of Hamas military leader Raed al-Athar in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip.

It was not clear whether al-Athar was home at the time, or whether he was harmed.

Al-Athar had been considered a possible replacement for Ahmed Jabari, the terror chief assassinated by Israel last week.

US amphibious warships are on their way to the eastern Mediterranean Sea in case they are needed to evacuate American citizens from the hostilities, CNN reports.

“This is due diligence. It is better to be prepared should there be a need,” an official is quoted as saying.

Israeli jets fired on the Islamic National Bank in Gaza City, according to Palestinian reports, with casualties being rushed to Shifa Hospital.

A separate airstrike on a government compound, also in Gaza City, is also reported.

Egypt is expected to present a ceasefire proposal to Israel on Tuesday, with guarantees from President Mohammed Morsi, according to Saudi reports.

Details of the proposal were not disclosed.

An Israeli airstrike in Khan Younis is reported — along with Color Red warning sirens in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon and the surrounding areas.

Al-Arabiya is reporting that a ceasefire agreement could be reached in as little as a few hours.

Reports from the Israeli side, meanwhile, have the government willing to extend and even expand Operation Pillar of Defense if a ceasefire is not reached by Tuesday.

Palestinian media report “huge blasts” in the northern Gaza Strip.

Warning sirens sound in Kiryat Gat, Sderot, and other southern towns.

UK Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt has arrived in the Middle East to meet senior Israeli and Palestinian officials, BBC reports.

Burt is on three-day mission to try to facilitate a ceasefire.

Russia accused the United States of blocking a bid by the UN Security Council to condemn the escalating conflict between Israel and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

“One member of the Security Council, I’m sure you can guess which, indicated… they will not be prepared to go along with any reaction of the Security Council,” Reuters quoted Russia’s UN envoy as saying, making a thinly veiled reference to the United States.

The nine most senior government ministers recently concluded their late-night deliberations over ongoing negotiations for a ceasefire with Hamas, refusing to divulge their plans to reporters.

While some media have reported that a ceasefire agreement could be hours away, the ministers stressed that the military was prepared to continue its attacks on terrorist targets in Gaza if necessary.

Reserve soldiers who rushed to the Gaza border, leaving behind families and work or university studies, tell reporters at one of the Hebrew dailies that they’re itching for action. It would be a shame to have spent four days on edge, preparing for combat, only to be sent home in a ceasefire that may not even last, they say; and if they are sent home, they add, they will be hesitant to report for service the next time they receive emergency call-up orders.

With reports of a ceasefire possibility taking shape some time on Tuesday, the IAF continues to strike targets in northern and central Gaza.

Palestinians report security sites are being targeted in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

As many as four airstrikes were directed at a site in Khan Younis. As yet, the target is unclear.

Of the half-dozen rockets fired at southern Israel in the past hour or so, Iron Dome intercepted two of them.

Ties between the US and Egypt and Turkey are being strained by the fighting in Gaza, the Washington Post reports. Officials in both Middle Eastern countries, which have slammed Israel for Operation Pillar of Defense, have expressed displeasure with the Obama administration for backing Israel in the conflict.

The paper notes that the situation is reminiscent of Israel’s 2006 war with Lebanon, during which US President George W. Bush was at first reluctant to back a ceasefire, despite Arab lobbying.

“We don’t practice diplomacy from the podium,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Monday.

However, US President Barack Obama, currently on a swing through east Asia, has been playing a role behind the scenes, speaking with Israeli prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi on Monday night. Obama asked Morsi to push Hamas to end the rocket fire on Israel, according to a White House statement.

Haaretz reports that the top government ministers have decided to give more time to diplomatic efforts before green-lighting a wider ground operation in Gaza.

The country’s top nine ministers met until nearly 3 a.m. Tuesday morning, and decided that giving diplomacy a chance would give Jerusalem greater legitimacy in the eyes of the international community should they decide to expand Operation Pillar of Defense, according to the daily, citing an unnamed diplomatic official.

UN Secretary General Ban-Ki-moon is expected in Israel Tuesday, joining the corps of international envoys arriving to shepherd a truce between Israel and Hamas.

Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi is expected to present Israel with a ceasefire proposal on Tuesday, guaranteed by Cairo.

The official told the paper that Israel preferred to achieve its goals of ending rocket fire on the south via air strikes, but would launch a ground operation if needed.

The Israeli military says that it hit some 100 targets in Gaza overnight, including rocket launchers, “terror tunnels,” Hamas weapons depots and financial institutions.

Targeted overnight in #Gaza: Underground rocket launchers, terror tunnels, #Hamas command posts & weapon storage facilities

A Grad rocket is shot down by the Iron Dome missile-defense system over Beersheba. The missile marks a return to fire after a short overnight lull.

Analysts note that rocket fire may ramp up ahead of a possible ceasefire, as terror groups attempt to get in last shots before being forced to lay down their arms.

At least nine rockets are shot down by Iron Dome over Beersheba in a matter of moments, as the city is targeted by a large volley of Grad missiles.

Television footage shows streaks of white across a clear blue sky and puffs of white smoke at the missiles are intercepted one by one.

Iron Dome intercepting missiles over Be'ersheba (Screenshot/ Channel 2)

Security and emergency rescue forces are beginning this morning a multi-day drill in the Upper Galilee (near the Golan), Walla reports. The exercise will use live fire and explosives and is expected to cause some traffic delays in the area. The drill is scheduled to run through Thursday.

Three Grad rockets hit populated areas of Beersheba, initial media reports suggest, with light injuries suffered.

Another missile reportedly hits the city of Ofakim.

Sixteen rockets were shot at Beersheba in the last moments, with three managing to get through Iron Dome’s defensive shield, according to Channel 2′s reporter on the scene.

Reports are coming in that a bus was damaged by one of the rockets that wasn’t intercepted by Iron Dome and managed to penetrate into Beersheba. One person was lightly injured by shrapnel in the strike, Channel 2 reports. Several more people are being treated for shock.

Some reports now about a ceasefire announcement. Israel Radio and Ynet report that according to the Al-Arabiya Arabic website, a ceasefire will be announced within the next few hours.

Details of a potential truce: Both sides agree to a 24- or 48-hour period without attacks, during which time Egypt will mediate for a final agreement, which will include an easing of the Gaza blockade.

The Magen David Adom emergency medical service treated five people with light injuries overnight, and four more people suffering from shock, MDA reports.

A group of Pakistani hackers have targeted a large group of Israeli websites, the Karachi-based Express Tribune reports. Over 30 sites of top international companies active in Israel, including Microsoft Israel, Coca-Cola, Intel and Philips are reportedly down due to what sources say are the actions of the Pakistan Cyber Army, a known hacker group. This is the second day of reported cyper-warfare against Israeli sites by groups operating out of Pakistan.

Hackers hijack the Israeli Groupon site on Monday, November 19. (photo credit: image capture)

Television footage shows heavy damage to a parking lot and cars in Beersheba after three rockets fall in the city.

A picture posted on Ynet of a bus in the city damaged by rocket fire shows it with windows blown out and pocked with shrapnel marks across its front.

The front page of Ynet showing the bus damaged by rocket fire (Screenshot, bus picture by Elana Coreal)

Beersheba mayor Rubik Danilovich tells Channel 2 that there were no injuries from the large volley of rockets on the city.

Other media are reporting one lightly injured from shrapnel.

Two rockets are fired from Gaza at Ashkelon. Iron Dome shoots down at least one as barrage on south continues.

Two more rockets fired from Gaza are shot down over Ashdod. That’s now nearly 20 missiles on the south’s three largest cities in the last half hour.

The United Israel Appeal has raised about NIS 1.6 million (408,000 dollars) to renovate bomb shelters in the south, Israel Radio reports. Most of the money will go to the purchase of portable shelters, which cost 40,000 dollars each.

Two rockets are reportedly shot down by Iron Dome over Beersheba, and one more shot down over Ashkelon.

Explosions heard in Sderot.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is to arrive in Israel tonight on a surprise visit, Haaretz diplomatic correspondent Barak Ravid tweeted minutes ago. She is to meet Netanyahu and Abbas and work for a ceasefire.

A volley of rockets fired from the Gaza Strip intercepted by the Iron Dome system near the Israeli town of Beersheba, November 15, 2012. (photo credit: Uri Lenzl/Flash90)

Police have complained that citizens are arriving at Iron Dome launching sites in an effort to see a rocket interception, often camping out with cameras, supplies and food, Israel Radio reports. Police caution that the Iron Dome is not a tourist attraction, and people are putting their lives on the line in a dangerous environment by such visits.

The bank destroyed by the Israel Air Force was set up by Hamas after foreign lenders, afraid of running afoul of international terror financing laws, stopped doing business with the militant-led Gaza government, AP reports.

However, the owner of the bank tells AP that he had no involvement in politics.

The inside of the Islamic National Bank in Gaza City was destroyed and a supply business in its basement was damaged.

The bank was one of over 100 targets hit by the IDF in Gaza overnight.

Sirens blare in cities across the south as morning bombardment from Gaza continues.

Two rockets land in open areas near Sderot and Sha’ar Hanegev. No injuries or damage have been reported.

Five more rockets land. No injuries have been reported.

One of the rockets landed in the parking lot of a large public institution in Sha’ar Hanegev. One fell in the Bnei Shimon region and three landed in open areas in Eshkol region.

Channel 2 is interviewing a couple in Beersheba who plan to get married tonight in a bomb shelter. They are dressed in full wedding regalia even though it’s 9:45 a.m. They say that the rocket fire won’t stop their wedding and their families are coming from Tel Aviv and other areas less affected by the Hamas rockets. “We’ll remember this for the rest of our lives,” the bride says.

The happy couple (Screenshot/ Channel 2)

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will reportedly meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and with Palestinian Authority officials tomorrow after she arrives in Israel late tonight.

Clinton will not meet with representatives from Hamas.

Clinton will also travel to Cairo to meet with Egyptian officials.

Israeli police post on Twitter that so far this morning 37 rockets have been fired into southern Israel from Gaza.

Several direct hits were reported in Beersheba, where one person was treated for light injuries.

One person is reportedly seriously injured by shrapnel from a rocket that struck in the Eshkol region. The person is being airlifted to Soroka hospital in Beersheba.

Meanwhile, Iron Dome shot down two missiles over Beersheba. More than 20 rockets have been shot at the city on Tuesday morning alone in an especially heavy barrage.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (photo credit: Nati Shohat /Flash90)

“Immediate steps” must be taken to avoid an Israeli ground operation in Gaza, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warns in Cairo.

“This must stop, immediate steps are needed to avoid further escalation, including a ground operation,” he says, according to an AP report. He warns that the entire region could be endangered because of the conflict.

Ban met with Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby earlier today and is scheduled to meet with Egyptian President Morsi later this morning. He is to arrive in Israel at the end of the day to continue his efforts towards an Israel-Hamas ceasefire.

President Shimon Peres meets Tuesday morning with German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle to discuss Operation Pillar of Defense.

Westerwelle tells the president that “Germany stands beside its friend Israel. Israel has right to defend itself and its citizens, and it is the responsibility of Hamas to halt the rocket attacks on Israel.”

Westerwelle adds that the support of Israel in the current conflict is not only the view of Germany, “but also of the European Union as reflected in statements of EU foreign ministers in Brussels yesterday.”

Peres thanks Westerwelle for Germany’s friendship and for its “efforts to bring an end to the attacks on Israeli civilian lives and to bring hope to the region.”

President Shimon Peres welcomes German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle at the President's residence in Jerusalem on November 20, 2012. (photo credit: Yoav Ari Dudkevitch/Flash90).

Two more Grad rockets have been shot down by Iron Dome over Beersheba. There are also reports that two missiles struck the city, which has been targeted by over 25 Grads in the last two hours.

The IDF, meanwhile, says it hit a rocket launching crew in Gaza. Palestinians report two people killed by Israeli strikes, in Beit Lahiya and al-Mughraqa.

UN head Ban Ki-moon, speaking in Egypt, says he will urge Israel to “end the violence” when he visits here later Tuesday.

Senior Hamas leader Salah Bardawil dismisses reports of a possible ceasefire as an “Israeli trial balloon,” according to Ynet News.

Bardawil says that Hamas is holding in reserve many different kinds of weapons to be deployed in the event of an Israeli ground assault, and says they have “surprises for the next phase, just as we had surprises during the first phase.”

He adds that Hamas has acquired a great deal of experience in dealing with enemies inside Gaza, presumably a reference to 2008-9′s Operation Cast Lead, which saw a massive IDF ground action inside the territory.

The Kerem Shalom border crossing between Israel and Gaza has been closed by the IDF due to heavy rocket fire in the area.

The IDF spokesperson tweets that more than 120 Israel trucks with supplies for Gaza are waiting at the border crossing unable to enter.

So far this morning, 13 rockets have landed in the Eshkol region.

A house in Beersheba suffers a direct hit from from a rocket that got through Iron Dome. No reports of injuries.

Palestinian fatalities in Operation Pillar of Defense now total 112, with over 920 injured, Al Jazeera reports. The news agency quotes an ambulance worker in Gaza who says three were killed in two separate overnight strikes.

Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a Marxist-affiliated rival to Hamas and Fatah, have taken responsibility for this morning’s barrage of rockets on Beersheba, Maan News reports.

Army Radio is interviewing a postwoman (a woman who delivers the mail, that is, not some new gender innovation) in Ashdod, trying to focus on the folks who keep the country ticking over even in times of conflict like these. As she talks about doing her best to get the mail delivered while following Home Front Command instructions about taking cover from rocket attacks, a siren sounds — obliterating her voice. The now familiar announcer’s voice breaks in to tell us all that there are “red alerts” in Ashdod and a whole host of locations across the south.

“Razi, there’s an alarm,” she says.

“Take cover,” the show’s anchor Razi Barka’i, urges her.

Not long afterwards, she’s back — telling us that she reckons the incoming rocket has been intercepted by Iron Dome. “Such experts we’re all becoming in areas about which we knew nothing a week ago,” remarks Barka’i. “What did you do, lie down on the sidewalk just now?” he asks her.

Israeli post boxes. (photo credit: CC-BY-Wikipedia/ Muhandes)

“No,” she says, “I went into the building where I had to deliver the mail, and took cover there. Now I’m back on the delivery route.”

Udi Segal, Channel 2′s reliable diplomatic correspondent, says the word from the political top brass is that Hamas’s ceasefire demands are outrageous and untenable, and that this conflict is certainly not over. He foresees ongoing air strikes and a very real possibility of the use of ground forces if there’s no diplomatic breakthrough by tomorrow evening.

Army Radio’s diplomatic reporter Ilil Shahar is making similar assessments: Israel will not agree to a lifting of the “blockade” designed to prevent Hamas rearming, is seeking a wider buffer zone at the Gaza Border, and needs to ensure conditions that would prevent recurrences of Gaza rocket rain on southern and central Israel for years to come. The current reported ceasefire parameters don’t meet those requirements. Netanyahu “is giving time” for the diplomats to work — Ban Ki-moon will be here soon, and Hillary Clinton is on her way — but the IDF is ready for ground operations.

Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom, who is not part of the inner cabinet of nine ministers, tells Walla News that within 24 hours the government will decide whether quiet in the south can be achieved by means of a ceasefire.

“These are real war crimes,” Shalom says, referring to Hamas rockets on the south. He calls members of the terror group “criminals who shoot in order to kill civilians.”

US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro says (twice) in an Army Radio interview that there is no US administration veto on an Israeli ground operation in Gaza.

The US has sent signals in the past few days that it would be less than thrilled with Pillar of Defense expanding to include a ground operation, though the White House has defended Israel’s right to protect its citizens.

The Iron Dome anti-missile system shoots down rockets over Ashdod and Be’er Tuvia, and moments later two more rockets over the Hof Ashkelon region near the coast.

The south has been pounded by some 50 rockets so far Tuesday.

A security guard at the US Embassy in Tel Aviv is injured by gunfire. Israel Radio reports that the shooter has been apprehended.

There is no word on the guard’s condition or on the circumstances surrounding the incident.

The shooting comes just after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announces that she will visit Israel Tuesday evening.

It’s unclear if the incident is linked to the fighting in the south and Gaza.

Reports now indicate that an attacker attempted to assault the US Embassy’s security guard with an ax. The guard was slightly injured and the attacker was apprehended. Details are still blurry.

Television footage shows two ambulances leaving the scene in Tel Aviv.

“I prefer a diplomatic solution,” says Prime Minister Netanyahu during a meeting with visiting German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle. “I hope that we can find such a solution, but if not, we have the full right to defend ourselves through other means, and we will use them.”

He tells Westerwelle that he thinks Germany can play a positive role in the brokering of a long-term ceasefire and in preventing the smuggling of arms into Gaza.

“As I said, we are seeking a diplomatic solution,” Netanyahu adds, “but if the rocket attacks continue, we will be forced to resort to far-reaching steps, and we won’t hesitate to do so.”

Westerwelle tells Netanyahu basically the same points he said earlier to Shimon Peres: that Germany is Israel’s friend and fully supports Israel’s right to defend itself. It is now time to find ways to reach a ceasefire, he adds, “but there is one precondition, and this is an end to the missile attacks on Israel.” This not just Germany’s position but that of the EU, he says.

Germany is ready to do whatever it can to help reach a ceasefire, but Egypt is central to such discussions, Westerwelle adds.

Iran says Palestinians in the Gaza Strip should be “equipped” to defend themselves against Israel, the Associated Press reports.

Tehran Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast refused to comment on Israeli allegations that Iran is already sending arms to Gaza.

Iran is a major supporter of terror groups such as Islamic Jihad and Hamas, which controls Gaza. On Tuesday, Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon tweeted that Iran was directly supporting Islamic Jihad. On Monday night, President Shimon Peres told CNN he was worried about the support Iran was giving Gazan terror groups.

Iran has previously denied it had directly supplied Hamas with Iranian-made Fajr-5 missiles that have hit near Tel Aviv.

Mehmanparast also said on Tuesday that that Israel should be put on trial for war crimes over the latest offensive.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sends a letter of condolence to Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi over the death of Morsi’s sister on Tuesday.

Fatima Morsi, 57, succumbed to cancer after an extended illness.

The death may affect negotiations for a ceasefire to Operation Pillar of Defense.

UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon has canceled his scheduled meeting with Morsi and will arrive in Israel for meetings with Israeli and Palestinian officials on Tuesday afternoon, earlier than originally planned.

Israel has agreed not to launch a ground operation in Gaza for at least 24 hours, as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton heads for the region to help broker a ceasefire between Jerusalem and Hamas.

“We have decided to give the diplomatic efforts a very serious chance,” a government official close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tells The Times of Israel, a few hours after the country’s top nine ministers convened to discuss the further course of Operation Pillar of Defense.

“We’re giving a chance to diplomacy. We’re giving it time, but this time is not unlimited,” the official says, adding that “we’ll know in a day or two” whether Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, Clinton and other international players currently in or traveling to Israel will be successful in achieving a ceasefire.

The IDF reports that the person injured by shrapnel in Eshkol earlier was a reserve tank driver. He has been taken to the Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer for treatment.

Two rockets are shot down by Iron Dome over Kiryat Malachi. One more missile lands in an open area near Be’er Tuvia.

A rocket lands next to a house in Sderot. No injuries are reported, but there is some damage.

The IDF tweets that of the 120 trucks carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza, only 24 were able to enter before the IDF was forced to close the Kerem Shalom border crossing on Tuesday morning due to rocket fire.

The crossing has not yet been re-opened.

“What if Berlin were Israel?” – that’s today’s main headline of B.Z., the German capital’s largest daily newspaper.

The paper’s front page shows a true-to-scale map of Berlin superimposed on a map of Israel, and a graphic shows how rocket fire would impact the different neighborhoods of the city. A rocket on Sdot Negev is equivalent to one in Potsdam, sirens in Kiryat Malachi would sound in Tiergarten, and so on.

“Life under constant rocket fire. For us in Berlin this is something unimaginable, for the people in Israel this is cruel everyday life,” the text next to the image reads. “A rocket on Sderot — as if it fell on the Kudamm.”

Kudamm is one of Berlin’s more fashionable avenues.

60 rockets have been launched into Israel today. Six of them landed in populated areas, including a direct hit on a house in Beersheba. At least 20 were intercepted by Iron Dome, and the rest fell in unpopulated zones.

Military sources say that Hamas is much more involved in the rocket fire today.

A rocket hits a house in Netivot, causing damage but no injuries. A second rocket shot at the town is intercepted by Iron Dome.

A politician closes down the Bahrain parliament earlier today by burning an Israeli flag in protest of Operation Pillar of Defense during a session.

Ynet reports that because of the burgeoning “Arab Spring” movement in the Gulf kingdom, Bahrain has banned all political demonstrations, including those in support of Gazans.

Two Gazans are killed and 10 more injured in two separate Israeli attacks on Tuesday afternoon, Palestinian sources say.

One strike, in the northern Gaza Strip, kills one person and injures four, according to the reports, and a second attack, on Deir Al-Balah in central Gaza, claims another person and injures six.

According to reports, since the beginning of Operation Pillar Defense last Wednesday, 116 Gazans have been killed and over 900 have been injured.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, via Twitter, accuses Israel of ethnic cleansing in the Palestinian territories and of violating international law.

A rocket lands in Sha’ar Hanegev. No injuries are reported.

PM Netanyahu meets with US Secretary of State Clinton (photo credit: PMO)

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will spend today and tomorrow in the region, according to a press release from the US State Department.

During her visit to Jerusalem, Ramallah and Cairo, Clinton will “build on American engagement with regional leaders over the past days — including intensive engagement by President Obama with PM Netanyahu and President Morsi — to support deescalation of violence and a durable outcome that ends the rocket attacks on Israeli cities and towns and restores a broader calm.”

Clinton praises Egypt’s role in the mediation efforts and says that she will “emphasize the United States’ interest in a peaceful outcome that protects and enhances Israel’s security and regional stability; that can lead to improved conditions for the civilian residents of Gaza; and that can reopen the path to fulfill the aspirations of Palestinians and Israelis for two states living in peace and security.”

In a recorded message broadcast on Hamas’s al-Aqsa TV, Gaza military chief Mohammed Deif tells followers that Israel will “pay a heavy price” if it enters Gaza, and warns “this is only the start.”

The BBC notes that Deif is only the nominal head of the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, which was taken over by Ahmed Jabari after Deif was injured by Israeli fire in 2006.

A factory in the Sdot Negev area takes a direct hit from a rocket. No injuries are reported.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle tells reporters in Jerusalem that he is engaging in shuttle diplomacy in pursuit of a ceasefire, traveling to Tuesday afternoon Egypt to meet with the foreign minister in Cairo and then returning to Israel that night for talks with Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

Earlier in the day he met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Westerwelle says any truce agreement will rest on two “pillars,” stopping weapons smuggling into Gaza and finding a viable way for people in the Palestinian enclave to have normal lives, an apparent reference to an end or easing of the Israeli blockade of the Strip.

The condition of the Israeli reserve tank officer injured this morning by rocket shrapnel in Eshkol is reportedly stable.

Dr. Daniel Simon, the head of the trauma unit at the Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer, praises the treatment that the wounded officer received in the field, which included having his chest drained, and says that barring any unforeseen complications, “at this stage it looks like he will not require surgery.”

Sirens in Jerusalem. Boom audible.

This marks the second time the capital has been targeted.

Channel 2 reports a rocket explodes somewhere near Jerusalem in an open area outside the city. No injuries reported.

The rocket reportedly fell somewhere near Bethlehem, south of Jerusalem.

This would put the blast somewhere in the area of the last missile to hit  the region, which fell in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc southeast of the city Friday night.

Channel 2 now reporting that the rocket fell into a West Bank Palestinian village south of Jerusalem. No injuries reported.

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