Israel, Hamas keep up raids on seventh day (Roundup)

January 2nd, 2009 - 9:26 pm ICT by IANS  

Gaza/Tel Aviv, Jan 2 (DPA) Hamas declared Friday a “day of rage” to mark one week of the Israeli attacks on Gaza Strip and vowed to avenge the killing of its leader Nizar Rayan, as Israeli warplanes continued to bomb Hamas targets on the seventh day.Tens of thousands of Palestinians demonstrated after Friday prayers throughout the West Bank in solidarity with Gaza, with at least 3,000 marching in the central city of Ramallah.

Some clashes erupted there between Hamas supporters carrying the green flags of their movement and yellow-flag-waving supporters of the Fatah movement of President Mahmoud Abbas.

Israel meanwhile continued to focus on, and keep up, its air raids on the seventh day of its offensive, with ground troops waiting along the border for orders to enter.

Hamas, too, kept up its rocket attacks, launching a volley of seven imported Grads at the southern Israeli coastal city of Ashkelon in the morning. The town of Sderot, just northeast of Gaza, was hit as well.

The Palestinian toll after one week of Israel’s Operation “Cast Lead” - aimed at curbing rocket and mortar attacks by Palestinian militants at its southern regions - reached 422 dead and 2,200 injured, more then 300 of whom were in serious condition, according to Gaza emergency services chief Mo’aweya Hassanein.

Four Israelis have been killed and several dozen injured by Palestinian rockets.

Over the past week, more than 700 targets in Gaza have been hit, an army spokeswoman said, while several hundred rockets hit Israel.

After one week in which the Israel Air Force already bombed and rocketed many of the targets more than once, its “pool of targets are close to exhaustion”, a senior Israeli government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Ma’ariv daily.

“After this stage, the ground stage is planned,” he said.

But another official said Defence Minister Ehud Barak was trying to buy some time before sending in the ground forces, to give international efforts to reach a diplomatic solution a chance.

On Friday, Israel permitted nearly 370 people with foreign passports to leave the Gaza Strip. The foreign passport holders, most of them Russians and Ukrainians, passed through Israel’s Erez crossing with northern Gaza, from where they were to be transported in buses to Jordan by their respective embassies.

Their departure sparked further speculation that the ground offensive was imminent. Israel’s Foreign Ministry however said they left Friday, because it had only now received the requests of their respective embassies and coordinated their exit with them.

The Israeli attack on Rayan’s house was one of the deadliest single strikes since the offensive began last Saturday.

The Hamas leader, his four wives and 11 of his 12 children were all killed when Israeli rockets hit and demolished his house in the crowded refugee camp of Jabaliya, north of Gaza City, Thursday.

While most Hamas leaders have vacated their homes and gone underground, Rayan, one the more extremist leaders in Hamas, had refused to do so in defiance of Israel.

Rayan’s house, a spokeswoman in Tel Aviv said, stored “large amounts of rockets and explosives.” She said Israeli aerial footage of the attack identified “many secondary explosions” proving this, and claimed the people inside had been given an advance warning, but would give no details.

Taking precautions, Israel closed off the West Bank for at least 48 hours, beefed up its police in East Jerusalem and limited entry to Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa Mosque to Muslim men aged 50 or older, to avoid clashes with youths at the sensitive compound.

Among some 20 targets hit in Gaza overnight were a mosque in Jabaliya, which Israel said was used as a Hamas “command centre” and a storage site for Grad rockets. At least one Palestinian was killed in another strike in the refugee camp later in the day.

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