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As sirens blare, Israel seeks to punish Hamas without occupying Gaza (+video)

The Israel-Hamas war that began Wednesday was on the brink of a major escalation, with Palestinian rockets nearing Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Can Israel achieve its objectives?

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The three-day war between Hamas and Israel seemed on the cusp of a major escalation Friday afternoon despite hopes the visit of Egypt’s prime minister to Gaza would inspire calm. Sirens warning of an incoming missile rang through the Tel Aviv metropolitan area, a rocket from Gaza reportedly struck outside Jerusalem, and Israel called up thousands of reservists for a potential ground invasion.

The scene of Israelis in Tel Aviv running for cover is a symbolic milestone for Palestinian Islamic militants, marking the first time Palestinian rocket fire has reached the Israeli heartland. But placing the city under attack also raises the likelihood that Israeli leaders will decide to dramatically widen their offensive in a way that threatens Hamas’ rule.

"Hitting Tel Aviv is definitely a major blow. This makes the difference between a regular terrorist group and a semi-military machine. They have crossed a certain line,’’ says Meir Elram, a fellow at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies. "To cause us severe losses in Tel Aviv will cause a major shift in our reserved policy. If Israel is being dragged out if its rational posture, Hamas has a lot to lose.’’

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