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Hamas calls for revenge as Israel hits Gaza again

2/01/2009 - 13:59

By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA (Reuters) - Palestinian Islamists vowed revenge on Israel on Friday for killing a senior Hamas leader and his family, and said all options including suicide bombs were now open to "strike at Zionist interests everywhere."

There was no sign of a cease-fire on the seventh day of the conflict, in which at least 424 Palestinians have been killed and 2,000 wounded. Four Israelis have been killed by Palestinian rockets.

Israel pressed on relentlessly with more than 30 air strikes, one of which killed three Palestinian children aged between eight and 12 as they played on a street near the town of Khan Yunis in the south of the Strip. One was decapitated.

"These injuries are not survivable injuries," said Madth Gilbert, a Norwegian doctor at Gaza's Shifa hospital who could not save another boy who had both feet blown off. "This is a murder. This is a child," he said.

Islamist fighters fired rockets at Israel's port of Ashkelon one of which blew out windows in an apartment building.

In Gaza City, a lucky few hundred foreign passport holders boarded buses in the pre-dawn murk to quit the Strip, with the help of the International Committee off the Red Cross, their governments and Israeli compliance.

"The situation is very bad. We are afraid for our children," said Ilona Hamdiya, a woman from Moldova married to a Palestinian. "We are very grateful to our embassy."

They left behind 1.5 million Palestinians unable to escape the conflict, a city facing another day of bombs, missiles, flickering electricity, queues for bread, taped-up windows and streets littered with broken glass and debris.

"We will not rest until we destroy the Zionist entity," said Hamas leader Fathi Hammad at the funeral of Nizar Rayyan, who was killed along with four wives and 11 children by an Israeli missile which hit his house on Thursday.

Spokesman Ismail Rudwan said that "following this crime, all options are now open including martyrdom operations to deter the aggression and to strike Zionist interests everywhere."

PROTESTS TURN VIOLENT

Bracing for protests and retaliatory violence, Israel sealed off the occupied West Bank to deny entry to most Palestinians and beefed up security at checkpoints.

There were protests by Palestinians in major West Bank cities. In Ramallah, Hamas supporters scuffled with the Fatah faction of Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, taunting them as "collaborators." Elsewhere, protesters stoned soldiers at checkpoints and some were wounded by rubber bullets.

In the Jordanian capital, Amman, riot police fired teargas to disperse hundreds of protesters marching on the Israeli embassy, chanting: "No Jewish embassy on Arab land."

A statement from Gaza by Hamas spokesman Ismail Rudwan said Israel's "terrorism, massacre and holocaust will not break us and will not force us to raise a white flag ... killing begets killing and destruction begets destruction."

The death toll rose to 424 as some badly wounded succumbed to their injuries and a morning strike killed two Palestinians in a house Israel said concealed a tunnel and a weapons dump.

A quarter of the dead are civilians, the U.N. estimates, and some 2,000 Palestinians have been wounded. Gaza rockets have killed four Israelis in the south over the past week.

The bearded cleric Rayyan, who mentored suicide bombers and sent one of his sons on a "martyrdom" mission, was the highest ranking Hamas official to be killed in the current offensive. He had called loudly for bombings in Israeli cities.

Israel's armoured forces remained massed on the Gaza frontier in preparation for a possible ground invasion, despite international calls for a halt to the conflict. An Israeli naval vessel lying offshore fired at a greenhouse in southern Gaza.

Late on Thursday, Israeli war planes bombed the Jabalya mosque. Israeli security officials said it was a meeting place and command post for Hamas militants and the large number of secondary explosions after the strike indicated that rockets, missiles and other weapons had been stored there.

Nine mosques have had been hit since last Saturday.

"I will pray at home. You never know, they may bomb the mosque and destroy it on our heads," said one man buying humus from a street stand. Another was defiant: "What better than to die while kneeling before God?" he said.

(Writing by Douglas Hamilton; Editing by Keith Weir)


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