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Israel Expands Hamas Targets In Gaza Strip
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Israel Expands Hamas Targets In Gaza Strip

Middle East

Israel Expands Hamas Targets In Gaza Strip

Israel Expands Hamas Targets In Gaza Strip
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Israel has targeted the homes of Hamas militants as its airstrikes against Gaza continue for a seventh day. Despite the hundreds of bombing runs, Palestinian militants continue to fire rockets into southern Israel. Israeli leaders now appear uncertain about the goals of the operation and how long it will last.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's Morning Edition from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep. We're about to ask how Israel hopes to end its military campaign in Gaza. Israeli warplanes struck again overnight at the narrow strip of Palestinian land by the Mediterranean Sea. Israel's military says the main targets were weapons-storage sites. According to the Israelis, those sites included tunnels and a mosque. And here's what raises the question of how Israel intends to finish the operation: The bombing was intended to stop Palestinian rocket fire into Israel, and despite hundreds of bombing runs, those rockets are still arriving. NPR's Mike Shuster has more.

MIKE SHUSTER: First, Israel hit military targets - buildings, tunnels and bases used by the security forces of Hamas, the Islamic resistance movement that governs Gaza. In the past few days, the targets have expanded to include government operations not directly associated with security or the military, such as the education ministry and the legislative assembly. Yesterday, for the first time in more than four years, Israel also targeted one of Hamas's leaders, Nizar Rayan. A one-ton bomb, dropped on the building where he lived, killed him along with two of his four wives and several children. The death toll in Gaza has passed 400; four Israelis have been killed by Palestinian rockets. There are no signs yet that either side is eager to stop the conflict. Asked yesterday how long it will go on, Israel's President Shimon Peres said the decision rests with Hamas.

(Soundbite of press conference, January 1, 2009)

President SHIMON PERES (Israel): It depends upon them. This - today, after all the death and all the blood, they fired 70 rockets today. What for? If they really care about their people, stop it.

SHUSTER: Many Israelis had hoped that an operation like this could end Hamas's control in Gaza. That seemed to be the message conveyed by Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who met yesterday with French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris.

(Soundbite of press conference, January 1, 2009)

Minister TZIPI LIVNI (Foreign Minister, Israel): The idea of this operation is in order to change reality and to give the Israelis the possibility to live in quiet and to have peaceful life. This is the idea.

SHUSTER: Some Israeli leaders have expressed the view that the Palestinian population of Gaza will blame Hamas rather than Israel for the violence and bloodshed, but so far, there's no evidence of that. There are just more rockets being fired from Gaza, 400 over the last week. Some newspaper columnists in Israel have begun to question whether a bombing campaign of this sort can really end the rocket attacks. They got support from an unlikely source yesterday, the spokeswoman of the Israeli Defense Force, Avital Leibovich, who suggested that neither the continuation of the air campaign, nor the possibility of a ground invasion of Gaza, would end the rocket attacks completely.

(Soundbite of press conference, January 1, 2009)

Major AVITAL LEIBOVICH (Spokeswoman, Israeli Defense Forces): I can't guarantee 100 percent ending the rocket fire in any scenario. That's why the goal of this operation is actually to cripple the capabilities of launching, the launching capabilities of Hamas, rather than diminishing them altogether.

SHUSTER: There is growing pressure in Israel to send the Army back into Gaza. In 2005, Israel removed its troops and settlers from Gaza after a 38-year occupation. Now, thousands of soldiers, along with tanks and artillery, are deployed along Gaza's border with Israel, poised to return, the state of affairs that Israel's President Shimon Peres seemed to find regrettable.

Pres. PERES: I don't think ground defense or any other measure is a purpose in its own right. We would like to stop it as soon as we can, with minimum fire as we may. Israel left the Gaza Strip in order not to return there. It's not our wish, it's not our aim, and I hope it won't be necessary.

SHUSTER: One more factor in all this has not gotten a lot of notice, but is surely on the minds of Israel's leaders. That's the change in leadership in Washington that is rapidly approaching. Yesterday, former Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, from the right-wing Likud Party, suggested that Israel will have to complete this operation before Barack Obama is sworn in as the new American president.

Former Minister SILVAN SHALOM (Former Foreign Minister, Israel): We will have a new president in the United States in January 20th. So, we don't have so much time, and I think that the window of opportunity now is open, but it won't be open forever.

SHUSTER: As the days tick by, that factor, more than anything, may determine how long the Israeli attack on Gaza will last and whether Israel will send in the ground troops. Mike Shuster, NPR News, Jerusalem.

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Israel Braces For Gaza Retaliation

Israel closed off the occupied West Bank and tightened security Friday ahead of expected Palestinian protests as it continued its air offensive in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

Hamas leaders have called on Palestinians to observe a "day of rage" Friday after a week of Israeli airstrikes on Gaza. The Israeli army is bracing for protests following the traditional Muslim Friday prayer services in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The army has declared a general closure of the West Bank through Sunday morning — a move that restricts the movement of Palestinians.

The clampdown comes after Israeli warplanes bombed a mosque in Gaza said to have been used to store weapons, and destroyed the homes of more than a dozen Hamas operatives. A senior Hamas official and several members of his family were killed in an airstrike on their north Gaza home Thursday.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Friday she had no plans to travel to the Mideast. She emphasized, however, that the administration continued to work on a cease-fire deal that would halt the fighting.

"Obviously, the United States is very concerned about the situation there and is working very hard with our partners around the world to address it," she said during a brief news conference at the White House. "We are working toward a cease-fire that would not allow a re-establishment of the status quo ante where Hamas can continue to launch rockets out of Gaza."

She said Hamas has "held the people of Gaza hostage" and used the territory "as a launching pad for rockets against Israeli cities and has contributed deeply to a very bad daily life for the Palestinian people in Gaza and to the humanitarian situation that we have all been trying to address."

Aid groups are concerned about civilians in the area. Allen Dhynes, a Jerusalem-based communication manager for the aid group World Vision, said residents of Gaza have no power and that fuel is scarce.

"Prior to the violence, there was only an average of eight hours of power a day, and now it's maybe only one hour a day," he told NPR from Portland, Ore., where he has been in contact with colleagues in Gaza.

"Gaza has been under a severe blockade and was already living under dire poverty before any of this occurred, so this is just an overwhelming burden for the population," Dhynes said.

Between 350 and 450 foreigners were authorised by Israel to leave Gaza if they wish, via the forbidding concrete corridor that ushers them into Israel's fortified crossing point and its panoply of security scanners to detect hidden suicide bombs.

Israel launched the aerial campaign Saturday in a bid to halt weeks of intensifying Palestinian rocket fire from Gaza. The offensive has dealt a heavy blow to Hamas, but has failed to halt the rocket fire. New attacks Friday struck apartment buildings in a southern Israeli city. No serious injuries were reported.

From wire reports

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