Israel Steps Up Attacks in Gaza as Rocket Fire Escalates

By News Agencies and Haaretz Staff

Published February 28, 2008, issue of March 07, 2008.
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Israeli security forces struck a range of targets in the West Bank and Gaza Strip on Thursday, killing a total of 15 Palestinians, including five children. Meanwhile, militants in Gaza continued to fire rockets at southern Israel, striking as far north as Ashkelon.

The deaths come a day after IDF troops killed 12 Palestinians and an Israeli was killed in a Qassam rocket strike on a college in Sderot. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert vowed that Israel’s response to the deadly barrage of Qassam rockets would be particularly harsh.

Early Thursday evening, an Israel Air Force helicopter attacked a police roadblock near the Gaza City home of Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, in which Palestinian officials said one person was killed and four others wounded.

The attack took place some 150 meters from Haniyeh’s home in the Shati refugee camp. Haniyeh, who has been in hiding for several weeks, fearing Israeli assassination, was not believed to be in the area.

The attack appeared to be aimed at sending a message to Hamas, one day after the IAF targeted Haniyeh’s empty office, as the heavily populated area is not used to launch rockets. Israel has threatened to begin targeting Hamas leaders because of the ongoing rocket fire from other parts of Gaza.

Four children - all under the age of 16 and three from the same family - were killed in an IAF strike in Jabalya, a refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip, Palestinian sources said. Witnesses said the children were playing soccer when the missile struck. Another boy wounded in that strike, a 12-year-old neighbor, died later, hospital officials said.

The IDF has not yet commented on the strike.

Another IAF attack in northern Gaza a short while later killed a Hamas militant.

Earlier, IAF aircraft struck northern Gaza, killing another Hamas member and one other person. There were no details on the target, and the IDF had no immediate comment.

On Thursday morning, the IAF struck targets in carried out an air strike in Gaza City, killing two militants from the Popular Resistance Committees and another from Hamas.

In the West Bank, IDF troops conducting arrests of terror suspects shot and killed a militant from the PRC and a member of the Fatah-linked Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades in the Balata refugee camp, on the outskirts of Nablus.

In the Gaza City neighborhood of Zeitoun, an IAF strike killed two Hamas members, including son of senior Hamas lawmaker, Khalil al-Haya. The group said he had commanded a rocket-launching squad in northern Gaza.

Al-Haya is one of Hamas’ top figures in Gaza, and has himself escaped assassination attempts, including an IAF strike that killed his brother last year.

Visiting the morgue at Gaza City’s Shifa hospital Thursday, Khalil al-Haya said he was proud that his son had lost his life for the Hamas cause, like many of his relatives.

“I thank God for this gift, he said. This is the 10th member of my family to receive the honor of martyrdom.”

Overnight, Israel Air Force jets blasted a government building in Gaza. Palestinian health officials said a 6-month-old baby was killed in the attack, and 30 people were wounded.

Witnesses said the building was empty. The IDF said all targets that were attacked were centers of terrorist activity.

Palestinian militants fired some 30 Qassam rockets at southern Israel on Thursday, lightly wounding two people. Militants also launched at least eight Grad rockets at Ashkelon, one of which scored a direct hit on a home in the port town. Several people were treated for shock.






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