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Gaza cease-fire collapses, Egypt PM backs Palestinians as Israel drafts 16,000 reservists

Updated at 10:27 a.m. ET: Israel started drafting 16,000 reserve troops on Friday as Egypt’s prime minister visited the Gaza Strip to show support for Palestinians amid a cross-border conflict with Hamas militants that risks spiraling into an all-out war.

But even as Prime Minister Hesham Kandil made a three-hour visit in the coastal enclave, a temporary cease-fire declared by Israel at Egypt’s request collapsed after both sides accused the other of violating it.

Later Friday, air raid sirens cried out in Israel’s two largest cities, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, as residents moved into underground shelters, NBC reporters on the scene said.

At least one rocket fired from Gaza toward Jerusalem landed outside the city, Israeli media reported. There were no injuries or damage.

Earlier, at least one rocket fired toward coastal Tel Aviv fell into the sea. "The rocket landed off the shores of Tel Aviv," a police spokesman told Reuters.

Hamas' military wing also claimed it had struck a building in the southern Israeli town of Ashkelon, NBC's Ayman Mohyeldin reported. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that the military intercepted four rockets over Ashkelon, but that one exploded in an open area.

It was the second straight day that Gaza militants have targeted Tel AvivThe attacks, which Israel considers to be a major escalation, could draw an Israeli ground invasion of Gaza closer.

Israeli troops have massed near the Palestinian territory and witnesses said they could see Israeli ships off Gaza's coast, Mohyeldin reported. Israel's army would be heavily dependent on reservists to fight any prolonged war. The military has received a green light to call in up to 30,000 reserve troops.

Follow the latest developments on this story on BreakingNews.com

It was unclear Friday whether Israel’s move to call up reservists presaged a ground invasion or was intended more as an intimidation tactic to pressure Hamas.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he was prepared to “take whatever action is necessary,” but Israel has also expressed strong desire to preserve its peace with the new Egyptian leadership. Israel’s announcement that it would hold fire during Kandil’s visit appeared to show its commitment to the treaty.

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Overnight, the military said it targeted about 150 of the sites Gaza gunmen use to fire rockets at Israel, as well as ammunition warehouses, bringing to 450 the number of sites struck since the operation began Wednesday. 

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Hamas chief killed

The latest upsurge in the long-running conflict came Wednesday when Israel killed Hamas' military mastermind, Ahmed Jabari, in a precision airstrike on his car. Israel then began shelling Gaza from land, air and sea.

At least 19 Palestinians, including seven militants and 12 civilians, among them six children and a pregnant woman, have been killed in Israeli airstrikes. A Hamas rocket killed three Israelis in the town of Kiryat Malachi on Thursday.

Israel says its offensive responded to increasing missile salvos from Gaza. Its bombing has not yet reached the saturation level seen before it last invaded Gaza in 2008, but Israeli officials have said a ground assault remains possible.

“We are going to continue hitting Hamas hard and we will continue to strike hard at the missiles targeted at Central and South Israel," Netanyahu wrote Friday on Twitter.

At least 12 trucks were seen transporting tanks and armored personnel carriers toward Gaza late Thursday, and buses carrying soldiers headed toward the border area, according to The Associated Press.

NBC News correspondent Martin Fletcher described Israel's call-up of reservists as "extremely significant." 

An Israeli ground offensive could be costly to both sides. In the last Gaza war, Israel devastated parts of the territory, setting back Hamas' fighting capabilities but also paying the price of increasing diplomatic isolation because of a civilian death toll numbering in the hundreds. 

Kandil crossed into Gaza before midday through the only border post with Egypt, heavily guarded by Egyptian security personnel wearing flak jackets and carrying assault rifles, The Associated Press reported.

He was greeted by Gaza's Hamas prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, who ventured out in public for the first time since Israel launched the offensive Wednesday by assassinating the militant group's military commander.

PhotoBlog: Israelis take shelter in pipes as rocket fire continues from Gaza

"Egypt will spare no effort ... to stop the aggression and to achieve a truce," Kandil said later.

"Palestine is the heart of the Arab and Muslim world and the body is not healthy while the heart is sick," he added.

Kandil held the bloodied body of a child at a hospital before leaving the Gaza Strip.

 

Instability

This week’s fighting has widened the instability gripping the region, further straining Israel-Egypt relations.

Gaza militants unleashed dozens of rocket barrages overnight. An Israeli military spokeswoman told the AP that about 50 rockets were fired at Israel from Gaza while Kandil was in the Palestinian territory.

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Israel's military denied allegations by Hamas that it had carried out attacks during Kandil's visit. Hamas alleged Israel's attacks on Friday killed two people.

Analysis: Israel, Gaza slide closer to war neither side wants

"Even though about 50 rockets have fallen in Israel over the past two hours, we chose not to attack in Gaza due to the visit of the Egyptian prime minister. Hamas is lying and reporting otherwise," the army said, according to Reuters. 

Israel had announced it would suspend military operations in Gaza during Kandil's visit so long as Hamas also halted all fire.

PhotoBlog: Rescuers work to free man from buried car following Gaza strike

Israel estimates the militants have 12,000 rockets, including more sophisticated weapons from Iran and from Libyan stockpiles plundered after the fall of Moammar Gadhafi's regime there last year.

NBC News' Martin Fletcher, Lawahez Jabari, Charlene Gubash and Yael Factor, Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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