Pillar of Defense Day 4

Grads hit Ashdod, Iron Dome intercepts rockets over Tel Aviv, Netanyahu says he will accept cease-fire if rockets stop.

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As Operation Pillar of Defense continued Saturday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke over the weekend with U.S. President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, saying he had told both that he is prepared for a comprehensive cease-fire if the rocket fire from Gaza will stop.

Jerusalem residents received their first taste of rocket warnings over the weekend as terror groups fired more missiles on the south and at Tel Aviv, and the Israel Defense Forces continued to prepare for a possible ground invasion as Pillar of Defense ended its fourth day.

After a rocket was fired at the Tel Aviv area on Friday, the army deployed a fifth, new, Iron Dome antimissile battery in the region Saturday morning. Within two hours, the system - considered more advanced than the previous four because of its more sophisticated radar system - intercepted a Fajr-5 rocket fired at the city.

Over 60 rockets were fired at Israel Saturday. While many of them were intercepted by the Iron Dome system, including rockets aimed at Sderot, Netivot, Ashdod, and Be'er Sheva, a 10-story building was hit in Ashdod at midday and a car was damaged during a barrage of rockets on that city.

Four people were reported lightly wounded and were evacuated to Kaplan Medical Center in Rehovot. Three IDF soldiers were lightly wounded when a rocket exploded in the Eshkol Regional Council. A rocket hit a home in the Eshkol Regional Council, but no one was home at the time.

As a result of the rocket fire on the central region, the flight paths of planes landing and taking off from Ben-Gurion International Airport were shifted northward last night. Several foreign airlines, among them Lufthansa, Austrian Airlines, Swiss and Air France, have stopped housing their flight crews in Tel Aviv hotels.

Since Operation Pillar of Defense began on Wednesday, the Iron Dome system has shot down 243 rockets, the IDF said last night, with an 88 percent success rate. Some 460 rockets have landed in Israeli territory, 33 of them in built-up areas.

According to the IDF, at least 79 rocket launches from Gaza failed, resulting in rockets exploding inside the Strip. Defense Minister Ehud Barak is expected to ask the cabinet on Sunday to approve another NIS 750 million to expand the Iron Dome program. (See full story in TheMarker, Page 8. ) IDF sources said it is clear that the system's success has fundamentally altered the home front defense situation.

The IDF continued its aerial bombardment of Gaza over the weekend, hitting more than 200 targets. Ahmed Abu Jalal, a senior Hamas ground forces commander; Khaled Sheir, a senior member of its antitank squad; and Mohammed Kalav, a senior Hamas air defense commander, were all killed Saturday by air force strikes.

The sorties also leveled a government building where Gaza Prime Minister Sheikh Ismail Haniyeh had his headquarters, and hit the Hamas Interior Ministry and a police compound, as well as weapons storage facilities and underground rocket-launching sites.

Officials in Gaza said 43 Palestinians, nearly half of them civilians - including eight children - had been killed since Israel began its air strikes.

"We are going to hit Hamas and all other Gaza terrorist organizations until we destroy Gaza's weapons arsenal and life returns to normal in Israel," GOC Southern Command Maj. Gen. Tal Russo told reporters last night. "We devastated their long-range weapons arsenal, but there is still a lot of work left."

Interior Minister Eli Yishai was blunter: "The goal of the operation is to send Gaza back to the Middle Ages. Only then will Israel be calm for 40 years," he declared.

The army has already called up some 40,000 of what could total 75,000 reservists, as preparations continue for a possible ground invasion of the Gaza Strip. Asked by reporters whether a ground operation was possible, Russo said it was "on the agenda."

"We have a plan," he added, "it will take time. We need to have patience. It won't be a day or two."

In Jerusalem on Friday, residents and numerous people from the south who had sought respite in the capital from the rocket fire were stunned by an air-raid warning less than an hour after Shabbat began.

Jerusalem has always been considered "immune" to rocket attacks, because of its mixed Arab-Jewish population and its many holy places - which, it had been assumed, would deter attempts to use rockets that could go astray and hit unintended targets.

Many of the city's residents, particularly families with small children, took shelter when the siren was heard, mostly in stairwells. Others, meanwhile, ignored the siren, with many believing it to be a malfunction. Residents called in reports to police of mild booms in various areas of the city, but the rocket actually fell to the south, in an open field in the Gush Etzion area and not in the city itself.

The Jerusalem municipality and the Home Front Command issued statements saying that people in the capital should maintain their routines, while being mindful of the guidelines for seeking shelter in the event of an air-raid warning. Schools in the capital will operate as usual.

The Arab educational system functioned normally on Saturday, and all scheduled soccer games north of Ashdod were held. Schools in the Tel Aviv area will also be open as usual, but the Education Ministry is opening information hotlines for the public that begin operating at 8 A.M. Sunday. In the southern region, it can be reached at 08-6263333; in Jerusalem, 02-5601605/6; in the Tel Aviv district, 03-6896357; and in the Central District, 03-6896851.

Last night, Labor Party leader Shelly Yacimovich called on Netanyahu to advance a bill she has submitted that would compensate people forced to miss work due to Home Front Command guidelines in any area declared to be affected by a "special security situation."

The Israel Police announced that due to security concerns, it plans to conduct a special operation on Sunday for Palestinians living illegally in Israel. Police Operations Branch head Maj. Gen. Nissim Mor said the sweep would not involve additional forces, but new guidelines have been issued to intensify searches.

A woman taking shelter during a Color Red Alert alarm that sounded at the beginning of the Sabbath in Nitzan on Friday. Credit: David Bachar

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