Israelis Kill 6 in Attack on Hamas Meeting

The Associated Press
Wednesday, July 12, 2006; 2:28 AM

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- Israeli aircraft blasted a house and killed at least six people in Gaza City early Wednesday during a high-level meeting of Hamas commanders, and Israel said the man who has topped its wanted list for a decade was wounded.

The military, which launched the attack as part of a two-week-old military offensive in the Gaza Strip to pressure Palestinians to release a captured Israeli soldier, said it didn't know how badly top Palestinian fugitive Mohammed Deif was hurt or where he was taken.

Abu Obeideh, spokesman for Hamas' military wing, said Deif was "in good health and in a good place," but offered no further details. He warned that the attack would "change all standards, opening new options that never have been used."

Deif, a master bombmaker, has been targeted several times in Israeli assassination attempts in the past. Israel holds him responsible for many suicide bombings in Israel over the past decade.

Nervous Hamas activists carefully inspected the bodies being brought into the hospital on Wednesday. At daybreak they disclosed that Raad Saed, a senior Gaza commander, was wounded and was being treated at a secret location.

Israel Army Radio said Ahmed Randouh, a Gaza commander involved in the Palestinian militant raid in which the Israeli soldier was captured, was also inside the house.

The huge explosion destroyed the house of Hamas activist Dr. Nabil al-Salmiah in the Sheik Radwan neighborhood, a Hamas stronghold in Gaza City. Health Minister Bassem Naim said at least six people were killed including two children, and about two dozen wounded.

Abu Obeideh issued an unusually strong condemnation, using language employed only when Israel has assassinated top Hamas leaders. "We will make the leaders of the Zionist regime regret this Nazi crime," said part of his long statement.

But Hamas officials said they did not know who was killed.

Witnesses said the house was struck by a missile fired from an Israeli warplane. The Israeli military said it attacked the house because it was a "meeting place for terrorists" who were planning attacks and rocket launching.

Palestinian rescue teams dodged broken water pipes and electricity wires to get to injured people screaming for help. The scene resembled the aftermath of a 2002 attack, when an Israeli warplane dropped a one-ton bomb on the house of a Hamas leader in Gaza, killing him and 14 other people, including nine children.

A neighbor, Safwan Amamour, 39, said he and his wife were cleaning their house next door when they heard a huge explosion, and he was hit by flying rubble.

As doctors stitched a cut next to his eye, he recounted grisly scenes of dismembered bodies. "No words can describe this destruction, this hellish damage, which I will remember of the rest of my life," he said.

Hamas official Ismail Radwan pledged to hit back at Israel. "It was a terrible, bloody massacre, and the Zionists will pay a heavy price for it," he said.

Earlier in the day, Israel sent tanks and troops into southern Gaza, expanding its operation against militants holding the captive soldier, 19-year-old Cpl. Gilad Shalit, and firing rockets.

Soldiers rolled into Gaza from the Kissufim crossing, once the main access point to Jewish settlements in the territory, and an access road 2 1/2 miles to the south, menacing the nearby city of Khan Younis and town of Deir al-Balah. Troops took control of Gaza's main north-south road, cutting the coastal strip in two.

Palestinians were staying off the road because Israeli snipers were on rooftops, and the road was within shelling range of tanks that had taken up position earlier Wednesday.

The Israeli military confirmed that forces were operating in southern Gaza, but gave no details.

At the same time, Palestinian security officials and witnesses said troops had pulled out of the area of the defunct airport in Dahaniye, also in southern Gaza, where they had been operating since the offensive began on June 28. The campaign is by far the largest since Israel pulled out of the coastal strip last summer, destroying all 21 Jewish settlements there.

Abu Obeideh, the Hamas military wing spokesman, said militants fired two rockets at Israel's power station in the southern city of Ashkelon on Wednesday morning. The military said two rockets were launched, but one fell near Kibbutz Yad Mordechai just over the border from Gaza, and the other fell in Palestinian territory.

Israel launched its offensive three days after Palestinian militants linked to the Hamas-led government captured Shalit in a cross-border raid. The operation was expanded last week to northern Gaza to try to halt Palestinian militants from firing homemade rockets into Israel.

Israeli forces have knocked out much of Gaza's power supply and left more than 50 Palestinians dead, most of them gunmen. One Israeli soldier also has died.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his defense minister, Amir Peretz, ordered the new incursions into Gaza after Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal said Monday he would not free Shalit security officials said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the operation.

Mashaal called Shalit a prisoner of war and demanded a prisoner swap _ which Olmert has ruled out.

Responding to Mashaal's statement, Shalit's father, Noam, called on Hamas to allow the Red Cross to visit his son. Under Geneva Conventions, the Red Cross is supposed to have access to prisoners of war.

Israel has demanded the unconditional release of its soldier to end the offensive.

The European Union also began delivering aid to Gaza in a bid to repair some of the damage. Moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he had received $50 million from the Arab League.

It was the first aid delivered under internationally backed funding restrictions that bypass the Palestinian government led by the militant group Hamas since March.

Officials said the money had bypassed Hamas because of the international boycott. The European Union, along with Israel and the U.S., considers Hamas a terrorist group.

Mohammed Awad, the Palestinian Cabinet secretary, said Hamas agreed to allow Abbas to handle the money. He said the funds would be used to pay civil servants, who have not received salaries in four months.

The European Commission said it has started delivering $765,000 in monthly aid to hospitals in the Gaza Strip.

EU spokeswoman Emma Udwin said the funds _ to purchase fuel for emergency generators at Gaza hospitals _ was requested by Abbas after Israel destroyed six transformers at a power plant during its Gaza offensive. Gaza now has only sporadic electricity, almost all of it provided by Israel.

© 2006 The Associated Press