Israeli air strikes hit Hamas HQ in Gaza, death toll hikes to 33

AFP , Saturday 17 Nov 2012

Israeli air strikes shell the cabinet headquarters of Gaza's Hamas government, the group said early Saturday, with eyewitnesses reporting extensive damage to the building

Ismail Haniyeh
Palestinians inspect the damage at Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh's office after being destroyed during an overnight Israeli airstrike in Gaza City, Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012. (AP Photo)

Israeli air strikes hit the cabinet headquarters of Gaza's Hamas government early Saturday. Later, an Israeli air strike killed three Palestinians in the central Gaza Strip, medics said, with Palestinian security sources confirming they were Hamas militants.

The latest deaths raised the overall death toll in Gaza to 33 as a relentless Israeli air campaign against Gaza militants entered its fourth straight day.

Friday,  Tel Aviv called up thousands more reservists in readiness for a potential ground war.

The Israeli military said it had sealed off all the main roads around the Gaza border, declaring the area a closed military zone, in the latest sign that Israel's patience with the rocket fire was at an end and it was poised to launch its first ground offensive on the territory since 2008-9.

The Hamas government said its cabinet headquarters was targeted with four strikes, and witnesses reported extensive damage to the building.

"The IDF (army) has targeted (Hamas prime minister) Ismail Haniya's headquarters in Gaza," an Israeli army spokesman told AFP.

"Over the past six hours, the IDF targeted 85 more terror sites," the military spokesperson's official Twitter account said.

"The headquarters was completely destroyed and neighbouring houses were damaged as a result of the barbaric Israeli bombing," a Hamas official told AFP.

The raid on the building came as Israel renewed strikes across Gaza, bombing the headquarters of the Hamas police force in western Gaza City and the government's internal security headquarters in the north of the city.

In the northern Jabalia camp, a strike left at least five people injured from the same family, according a source at the Kamal Odwan hospital.

An AFP correspondent earlier reported seeing tanks massed along the Gaza-Israel frontier, and a steady stream of reservists arriving throughout the day Friday.

President Barack Obama reiterated US support for Israel's right to defend itself during a call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the conflict in Gaza.

Israeli air strikes on Gaza on Friday night killed six Palestinians, raising the toll in two days of violence to 30, a Hamas health ministry spokesman said.

An Israeli military spokesman said one strike destroyed a Hamas military drone production workshop.

Israeli ministers approved the call-up of as many as 75,000 reservists as Netanyahu held late evening talks at the defence ministry in Tel Aviv with his inner circle, Channel Two television reported.

The military wing of the Islamist Hamas movement that rules Gaza said it fired the rocket at Jerusalem, the first from the territory ever to strike the outskirts of the Holy City.

It marked a major escalation by Hamas in the face of a deadly pounding since Wednesday by Israeli aircraft that has sparked outrage across the Arab and Islamic world.

A rocket attack also killed three Israelis.

Neither rocket on Friday caused casualties or damage, police said, but they sowed panic in both of the Jewish state's main population centres, setting off warning sirens and sending people scurrying to shelters.

One hit a Jewish settlement bloc in the occupied West Bank just south of Jerusalem, which is home to many commuters, but caused no damage or injuries, an army spokesman told AFP.

A second rocket crashed into the sea off Tel Aviv "some 200 metres (yards)" from the beachfront US embassy, sending beachgoers fleeing, a witness told AFP.

The two rockets were the farthest Gaza militants have ever fired into Israel, exceeding even the 60 kilometres (36 miles) achieved by a rocket that hit the sea off Jaffa, just south of Tel Aviv, on Thursday.

UN and Palestinian officials said UN chief Ban Ki-moon would travel to the region in days to push for a truce.

"Ban went to the region during the last Israeli offensive against Gaza in 2009 and worked hard to end that conflict. He is looking to produce a truce and ceasefire this time as well," one senior UN diplomat said.


-- 'Preparing all the military options' --


Even before the latest rocket fire, senior cabinet minister Moshe Yaalon warned that Israel was poised for a ground offensive.

"We are preparing all the military options, including the possibility that forces will be ready to enter Gaza in the event that the firing doesn't stop," he said.

As ground troops massed, there was no let-up in Israeli air attacks.

A child was among the dead reported by the territory's emergency services on Friday, two of whom were brought in to Gaza City's Shifa hospital as Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Qandil toured the wards on an unprecedented solidarity visit.

The overthrow early last year of veteran strongman Hosni Mubarak, a staunch supporter of Egypt's three-decade-old peace treaty with Israel, has cast a chill over the already lukewarm relationship between the two neighbours.

Egypt's new Islamist President Mohamed Morsi, who like Hamas has his roots in the Muslim Brotherhood, has moved to establish closer relations with the Gaza authorities.

Washington appealed to Egyptian leaders as well as to allies such as Turkey to use their sway with the Palestinians in a flurry of telephone diplomacy aimed at containing the crisis.

In Obama's call to Netanyahu, the president "reiterated US support for Israel's right to defend itself, and expressed regret over the loss of Israeli and Palestinian civilian lives", the White House said in a summary of the conversation.

Netanyahu, who initiated the call, expressed his deep appreciation for US investment in the Iron Dome rocket and mortar defence system, "which has effectively defeated hundreds of incoming rockets from Gaza and saved countless Israeli lives", according to the readout.

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