Israel jets bomb 40 targets, including Hamas leader’s office (Lead)

December 29th, 2008 - 7:26 pm ICT by IANS  

Tel Aviv/Gaza, Dec 29 (DPA) Israeli warplanes bombed and rocketed Gaza for the third day running Monday, hitting some 40 targets overnight, including the office former Palestinian prime minister and Hamas leader Ismail Haniya.Large columns of tanks, military vehicles and buses with Israeli soldiers on board have meanwhile moved southwards, deploying near the Israeli border with Gaza in what could indicate a possible impending ground invasion, witnesses said.

The Israeli Army also declared the area around Gaza a “closed military zone”, meaning no civilians will be allowed through roadblocks set up on key entry roads.

Some 310 Palestinians have been killed since the massive air campaign, codenamed “Operation Cast Lead”, started Saturday, just over a week after a fragile, six-month truce between Israel and Hamas formally ended.

More than 800 Palestinians have so far been admitted to hospitals where many of the injured have no proper beds, Gaza emergency services chief Mu’awia Hassanein said.

Two people, including an Arab Israeli, were also killed when a rocket struck a construction site in the southern Israeli coastal city of Ashkelon Monday morning.

Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said Sunday that the offensive, aimed at ending rocket and mortar attacks from the Gaza Strip, would continue until all of its goals had been achieved.

The buildings struck between midnight and 6:00 a.m. Monday included a two-storey mosque located in between two houses in the densely-populated northern Gaza refugee camp of Jabaliya. Witnesses said flying debris hit one of the houses, of Anouar Balousha, killing his five daughters.

The targets also included Gaza City’s Islamic University and the office of de-facto Palestinian prime minister Ismail Haniya, of Hamas, as well as rocket-manufacturing workshops and warehouses throughout the Strip, a spokeswoman in Tel Aviv said.

Planes also bombed more smuggling tunnels along Gaza’s southern border with Egypt, while the Israel Navy shelled Hamas outposts on the coast and inland, she said. As many as about 40 tunnels, used to smuggle goods and weapons into the strip, were said to have already been destroyed in a matter of minutes when bombed Sunday.

Palestinian militants, meanwhile, continued their rocket fire, with at least 14 hitting Ashkelon, the town of Sderot and elsewhere Monday. Hamas claimed responsibility for firing the Grad rocket which struck a building under construction in Ashkelon, killing one Arab Israeli construction worker and injuring at 14 others people.

On Monday morning, a Palestinian stabbed and injured three Israelis in the West Bank settlement of Qiryat Sefer, west of Ramallah, a military spokeswoman in Tel Aviv said. An armed paramedic shot and seriously wounded the attacker.

Israeli police were on high alert to prevent further revenge attacks and rioting, after thousands of Arab Israelis and Palestinians, throwing stones and bottles, protested Sunday against the Gaza campaign in East Jerusalem and in such Arab towns as Umm el-Fahm, northern Israel.

Israel launched the deadly and destructive offensive in Gaza after militant factions in Gaza, notably the Islamic Jihad and Hamas, fired more than 180 rockets and mortars at southern Israel in the week after a six-month, Egyptian-brokered truce formally expired Dec 19.

Since the offensive began late Saturday morning, they fired at least another 160 rockets and mortars at Israel, the army said, while a total of more than 300 targets throughout Gaza have been hit.

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