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Israel raid kills Hamas leader

Israel continued to bomb Gaza after killing a top Hamas commander, as the death toll in the now seven-day blitz reached to 420.

world Updated: Jan 02, 2009 13:16 IST
Mai Yaghi

Israel continued to bomb Gaza early on Friday after killing a top Hamas commander in the biggest blow yet to the Islamist's leadership, as the death toll in the now seven-day blitz reached to 420.

With tanks and troops massed for a threatened ground offensive and with no ceasefire in sight, Israeli planes and naval guns staged more than 50 attacks on Thursday and Hamas sent more rockets deep into Israel.

An army spokeswoman said the overnight bombing targeted rocket launchers and weapons storage facilities, but she could not immediately provide details.

Witnesses in Gaza told AFP several people had been wounded in the attacks, but no deaths were reported.

On Thursday, Israeli jets fired missiles on the home of Nizar Rayan in the Jabaliya refugee camp, killing the hardline leader, his four wives, 10 of his children and two neighbours, witnesses and medical sources said.

Rayan's headless body was hurled into the street by the force of the blast, which also destroyed or damaged 12 nearby houses.

Considered to be among the most hawkish of Hamas leaders, Rayan was the most senior figure to be killed by Israel since Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi in 2004.

Hamas leader Ismail Radwan said Israel would regret its attacks.

While they "are intended to break our will, they won't," he said on television. "This cowardly enemy must realise that he will regret these crimes against our people."

In addition to the 420 dead, "Operation Cast Lead" has also left more than 2,100 people wounded, according to Palestinian emergency services.

Rocket fire from Gaza has killed four people and wounded dozens in Israel.

Thursday's Israeli strikes also hit the parliament and justice ministry, rocket launching sites, tunnels for smuggling weapons or supplies into the territory and weapons storage facilities, a military spokeswoman said.

And the army said it bombed the mosque in Jabaliya where Rayan was a preacher, calling it a "terror-hub" and a storage site for rockets and other weapons.

Hundreds of houses have been destroyed and the United Nations says about 25 percent of the dead are civilians. Food, fuel and medical supplies are all running short, aid agencies say.

Israel began the offensive on Saturday in response to rocket fire by Hamas and its allies but has failed to halt those attacks, none of which caused any casualties on Thursday.

One projectile slammed into an apartment block in Ashdod more than 30 kilometres (20 miles) from Gaza, the army said.
And two rockets hit near the desert city of Beersheva, 40 kilometres (25 miles) from the border -- the deepest yet they have reached into Israel.

Speaking in Beersheva, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel is "not interested in conducting a long war" but insisted "we will deal with Hamas and terror with an iron fist."

Hamas has fired more than 280 rockets since Saturday, according to Israel.

On the diplomatic front, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni held talks in Paris on Thursday with President Nicolas Sarkozy and other French leaders.

The previous day, Israel had rejected a French proposal for a 48-hour ceasefire to help humanitarian efforts. Livni repeated that rejection, saying Israel would decide in due course when to halt its offensive.

"The question of whether it's enough or not will be the result of our assessment on a daily basis," she said.

Peace moves were also stalled at the UN Security Council even though UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the conflict had
become "a dramatic crisis."

The civilian population in Gaza and stability throughout the Middle East "are trapped between the irresponsibility displayed in the indiscriminate rocket attacks by Hamas militants and the disproportionality of the continuing Israeli military operation," Ban said.

Libya presented the Security Council with a draft resolution drawn up by the Arab League calling for an immediate ceasefire, but the United States and Britain said it appeared biased because it did not mention the Hamas attacks.

With speculation rife over whether Israel will launch a ground assault, an army spokeswoman said "a few hundred foreign citizens" living in Gaza would be allowed to leave on Friday morning.

The spokeswoman said the people had asked to leave and she could not immediately comment on whether they were also being advised to do so.

Meanwhile, Israeli police were on alert in east Jerusalem. Hamas called for a "day of wrath" on Friday in there and in the West Bank, with "massive marches" after weekly Muslim prayers, starting off from the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem and from "all the mosques in the West Bank."

The army also locked down the West Bank from midnight (2200 GMT Thursday) for 48 hours, with movement in and out of the territory prohibited except for emergencies and special cases.