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