Strikes Destroy Ministry in Gaza, Kill 10 Palestinians

Smoke from rockets fired at Israel by Palestinian fighters can be seen above Gaza City on a day of intense operations.
Smoke from rockets fired at Israel by Palestinian fighters can be seen above Gaza City on a day of intense operations. (By Hatem Moussa -- Associated Press)
By Griff Witte
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, February 28, 2008

JERUSALEM, Feb. 27 -- An Israeli airstrike Wednesday evening destroyed the Interior Ministry building in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip just hours after fighters from the movement launched a barrage of rockets into southern Israel.

The Israeli strike on the ministry -- apparently unoccupied at the time -- capped a day of intensive operations from both sides of the Gaza boundary that killed at least 10 Palestinians as well as one Israeli in the southern town of Sderot.

Palestinian hospital officials in Gaza said the Israeli strike on the ministry killed a 6-month-old baby and injured more than 25 other people living in the densely populated neighborhood around it.

Earlier in the day, Israeli strikes killed at least nine Palestinians, including four civilians, officials in Gaza said.

Israeli military officials said the attacks were aimed at Palestinian gunmen in Gaza who fired more than 40 rockets into Israel over the course of the day. In an afternoon strike, an Israeli college student was killed when shrapnel hit him in the chest. He was the 14th Israeli in the past seven years to be killed inside Israel by the sort of crude Palestinian rockets known generically as Qassams, and the first since May.

Even before Hamas seized power in Gaza last June, the Israeli government was under pressure to stop the rocket fire from the strip. But small-scale ground incursions, artillery fire and severe restrictions on the flow of goods into Gaza have all failed to eliminate the rocket strikes.

Residents of Sderot, a working-class town of 20,000 that sits a few miles from Gaza's boundary, have demanded that the government do more to stop the rockets, even if it means a full-scale invasion of Gaza.

Israeli spokesman David Baker said Wednesday that the government would "take whatever steps are necessary to bring these attacks to an end."

"Israel is compelled to undertake defensive measures to prevent these repeated Qassam rocket barrages," Baker said. "We cannot allow a situation where our citizens are continuously hounded by terrorist rockets."

Hamas, an armed movement with a network of social services, has vowed to continue the attacks, saying it is carrying out legitimate resistance to Israeli occupation in Gaza and the West Bank. The Hamas charter calls for the creation of an Islamic state across territory that now includes Israel, although its military focus is to end the Israeli occupation of land taken in the 1967 Middle East war.

Gaza's 1.5 million people have been suffering in recent months from a tight economic embargo imposed by Israel that has limited the availability of basic supplies. The Israeli government evacuated its Gaza settlements in 2005 but still controls the cargo crossings between the strip and Israel.

"We have to resist in order to protect our land and our people and put an end to this occupation," said Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum.

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