Israel bombs Palestinian Foreign Ministry

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The Independent Online

An Israeli warplane bombed the Hamas-controlled Palestinian Foreign Ministry in Gaza City today, collapsing part of the structure and causing widespread damage. It was Israel's second use of a huge bomb in Gaza in as many days in its two-week offensive against militants.

The third and fourth floors of the building were destroyed in the huge blast that shook the city and damaged houses and vehicles for a wide area around it. At least 13 people were injured, all in nearby houses.

The Israeli military confirmed it carried out an airstrike on the Palestinian Foreign Ministry, noting that it is "led by Hamas." Hamas-allied militants seized an Israeli soldier last month, triggerign the Israeli campaign.

Israeli officials on Thursday accused Palestinian Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar, a Hamas hardliner, of having known in advance of the militants' plot to attack an Israeli outpost and seize soldiers.

Zahar "is part of a leadership that is involved in a very tangible way in terrorism and in violence," said Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev. "He had knowledge of the recent hostage taking, and he is part of a leadership that has orchestrated rocket attacks, countless rocket attacks...countless missile attacks against Israeli urban areas."

Palestinian Foreign Ministry spokesman Taher al-Nunu accused Israel of carrying out "organized terrorism that targets all the Palestinian people and aims to exterminate all government institutions, one after another, to prevent them from carrying out their duties."

He said no one was in the building when the plane struck after 1:30 a.m. (2330 GMT Wednesday).

Before daybreak, an Islamic Jihad militant was killed and another wounded in an Israeli airstrike in southern Gaza, where Israeli troops started an incursion a day earlier. Palestinians said they were about to fire a rocket at a tank when they were hit. Four militants were wounded in an earlier airstrike there.

Early Wednesday, an Israeli F-16 warplane dropped a quarter-ton bomb that killed nine members of one family in Gaza City. The Israelis were aiming for Hamas leaders, who were meeting in the house.

A Hamas militant leader who has topped Israel's most-wanted list for a decade was badly wounded and underwent four hours of spinal surgery, security officials said.

The top fugitive, Mohammed Deif, could end up paralyzed, Palestinian security officials said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss his condition. Wednesday's blast marked the army's fourth attempt to kill Deif, held responsible for suicide bombings in Israel. In a 2002 missile strike, he lost an eye.

Israel's air force targeted the two-story house of Nabil Abu Salmiyeh, a Hamas activist and university lecturer, after getting intelligence information that the leaders of Hamas' military wing, responsible for the abduction of the soldier, were meeting there. Palestinian security officials said seven or eight top Hamas officials were present.

The bomb blast killed Abu Salmiyeh, his wife, and seven of his nine children, ages 4-18. "I heard a really loud explosion and then I felt the ceiling fall on top of me. I was buried under the rubble," said Awad Abu Salmiyeh, 19, who along with an older brother was the only family members to survive.

The bombardment brought down the house and buried residents under the rubble. Rescue workers pulled out the body of a 4-year-old child, clad in a red-T shirt, whose head was blown open by the blast and whose lower body was torn off.

Hamas initially said its leaders had emerged safely from the 2:30 a.m. attack.

But Palestinian security officials later said Deif and several other top Hamas militants were hurt in the attack.

On Wednesday, Hamas militants took over the intensive care unit at Gaza's Shifa Hospital. Several people were being treated inside, including some in critical condition, medical officials said. Black-uniformed Hamas gunmen stood guard at the entrance of the unit. A large bearded man blocked people from entering, permitting only a team of doctors and top Hamas officials such as Zahar to pass.

The guard angrily declined to say who was being treated.

Hospital officials said Raed Saad, a top Hamas operative, was among the wounded, but details of his condition weren't released.

More than 60 Palestinians have been killed in the offensive, most of them gunmen, but about a dozen have been civilians. One Israeli soldier also has died, shot by fellow troops.

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