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Israelis keep pressure on Gaza

JERUSALEM — Israeli warplanes pounded Hamas targets in Gaza for a seventh day on Friday while Israel allowed hundreds of foreigners, many of them married to Palestinians, to leave the enclave, raising fears there that Israel was planning to escalate its week-old campaign.

Tensions spread to the West Bank and East Jerusalem, where Palestinian anger at reports of civilian casualties in Gaza seemed to be translating into at least a temporary increase in popular sympathy for Hamas.

Israel has vowed to press its offensive until there is no more rocket fire out of Gaza; its troops and tanks remained along the border, poised for a possible ground invasion.

The U.N. special coordinator for the Middle East, Robert Serry, told reporters on Friday that he was deeply worried that Israeli would decide to move into Gaza.

"We are gravely concerned about that prospect because that would just mean another cycle of violence and a further escalation of the conflict," he said. "This must stop. With Israeli tanks on Gaza's border, it is absolutely imperative now that we find an immediate and lasting way out to avoid an even deeper and deadlier conflict."

Israeli analysts and experts have said that any ground operation should be brief but powerful.

Alex Fishman, the military analyst of the popular daily Yediot Ahronot, wrote Friday, "Since the name of the game is killing and destruction, the ground operation has to be quick, with a lot of firepower at friction points with Hamas." He added: "The goal is to exact a high price in the early stages of the ground operation and to end it quickly."

Palestinian militants continued to launch salvos of rockets at southern Israel on Friday, with several hitting the coastal city of Ashkelon, lightly injuring two Israeli women there.

Israeli air and naval forces pummeled more bases of Hamas, the Islamic group that controls the Gaza Strip. The military said it hit the houses of several Hamas militants that also served as weapons depots, as well as tunnels used for weapons smuggling and missile launching sites. Warplanes also bombed a mosque in Jabaliya, in northern Gaza. The military said that Hamas was using the mosque as a terrorist base and that it was storing rockets there.

It was the mosque where Nizar Rayan, the senior Hamas militant leader killed in an Israeli strike on Thursday, used to preach. Rayan's four wives, at least nine of his children and several neighbors were also killed when his home was bombed.

About 2,000 Gazans turned out for the funeral in Jabaliya on Friday. Speakers called for revenge as Israeli fighter jets sped threateningly overhead.

With Hamas calling for Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem to make Friday a "day of wrath," a few thousand turned out in Ramallah, the administrative headquarters of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

In Israeli-controlled East Jerusalem, the police came out in force to prevent disturbances after noon prayers. Small riots broke out in some Arab neighborhoods around the city, but most were quickly dispersed. And in Hebron, protesters clashed with the Palestinian police, leaving at least 10 injured.

In Gaza, local residents went out to pray at mosques and to shop for essentials, but did not linger. Medical officials in Gaza said 430 Palestinians had been killed and some 2,200 wounded since the Israeli campaign began Dec. 27. The casualty figures include many Hamas security personnel, but the United Nations has estimated that a quarter of those killed were civilians.

Three Israeli civilians and one soldier have been killed in rocket attacks in the past week, as Hamas deployed its more advanced, longer-range projectiles capable of hitting Israeli cities more than 20 miles away.

Israel opened a border crossing with Gaza to allow 270 Palestinians to flee the fighting on Friday. Hundreds of spouses of Palestinians, including women from Russia, Romania, Ukraine and Western Europe, left Gaza with the help of diplomats from their countries.

Jawaher Hajji, a 14-year-old U.S. citizen who said she had lost two close relatives in the past week, described a scene of growing desperation in the enclave. "There is no water, no electricity, no medicine," she told the Associated Press. "It's hard to survive. Gaza is destroyed."

Bush on a cease-fire

President Bush on Friday branded the Hamas rocket attacks on Israel an "act of terror" and outlined his own condition for a cease-fire in Gaza, saying no peace deal would be acceptable without monitoring to halt the flow of smuggled weapons to terrorist groups. Bush chose his weekly taped radio address, which will air this morning, to address one of the bloodiest Mideast clashes in decades. He offered no criticism of Israel, depicting its air assaults as a response to the Hamas attacks. The White House will not comment on whether it views the Israeli response as proportionate.

Associated Press

Israelis keep pressure on Gaza 01/02/09 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 5:40pm]
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