Hamas Leader Dares Israel to Invade Amid Gaza Airstrikes

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GAZA CITY -- The top leader of Hamas dared Israel on Monday to launch a ground invasion of Gaza and dismissed diplomatic efforts to broker a cease-fire in the six-day-old conflict, as the Israeli military conducted a new wave of deadly airstrikes on the besieged Palestinian enclave, including a second hit on a 15-story building that houses media outlets. A volley of rockets fired from Gaza into southern Israel included one that hit a vacant school.

Speaking at a news conference in Cairo, where the diplomatic efforts were under way, the Hamas leader, Khaled Meshal, suggested that the Israeli infantry mobilization on the border with Gaza was a bluff on the part of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel.

"If you wanted to launch it, you would have done it," Mr. Meshal told reporters. He accused Israel of using the invasion threat as an attempt to "dictate its own terms and force us into silence."

Rejecting Israel's contention that Hamas had precipitated the conflict, Mr. Meshal said the burden was on the Israelis. "The demand of the people of Gaza is meeting their legimitate demands -- for Israel to be restrained from its aggression, assassinations and invasions, and for the siege over Gaza to be ended," he said.

The Hamas Health Ministry said Monday evening that a total of 107 people had been killed since Wednesday morning, when Israeli airstrikes began, following months of Palestinian rocket fire into Israel. A spokeswoman for the Israeli military said she believed that a majority of these were militants, though it is difficult to know because Hamas's own fighting brigade and the other factional groups are secretive.

The Hamas ministry said that the dead included at least 26 children, 10 women and 12 men over 50, who were presumably not involved in combat. Of the remainder, at least 36 are known militants. Hamas officials said more than 860 have been wounded, 260 of them children, 140 of them women and 55 men over 50.

Three people have been killed so far in Israel, all civilians, in a rocket strike that hit an apartment house in the southern Israeli town of Kiryat Malachi on Thursday morning. The Israelis have said that at least 79 Israelis have been wounded and that Gaza rockets have reached as far north as Tel Aviv.

The latest Gaza casualties -- 22 people reported killed since midnight local time -- included Palestinians killed in strikes by warplanes, a drone attack on two men on a motorcycle, and a father and two toddler sons in their bombed northern Gaza home, witnesses and medical sources said. Another Israeli drone attack killed the driver of a taxi hired by journalists and displaying "Press" signs, although it was not clear which journalists had hired it, Palestinian officials said.

On Sunday, Israeli forces attacked two buildings housing local broadcasters and production companies used by foreign outlets. Israeli officials denied targeting journalists, but on Monday Israeli forces again blasted the Al Sharouk block, a multiuse building where many local broadcasters, as well as Sky News of Britain and the channel Al Arabiya, had offices.

That attack, which struck a computer shop on the third floor, sparked a blaze that sent plumes of dark smoke creeping up the sides of the building. Video footage showed clouds of smoke billowing.

An Israeli bomb pummeled a home deep into the ground here on Sunday, killing 11 people, including nine in three generations of a single family, in the deadliest single strike since the latest conflict began. Members of the family were buried Monday in a rite that turned into a gesture of defiance and became a rally supporting Gaza's militant Hamas rulers.

A militant leader said Tel Aviv, in the Israeli heartland, would be hit "over and over" and warned Israelis that their leaders were misleading them and would "take them to hell."

Israel says its onslaught is designed to stop Hamas from launching the rockets, but, after an apparent lull overnight, more missiles hurtled toward targets in Israel, some of them intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome defense system. Of five rockets fired on Monday at the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon, four were intercepted but one smashed through the concrete roof at the entrance to an empty school. There were no reports of casualties. Other rockets rained on areas along the border with Gaza.

Later a second salvo struck Ashkelon. Several rockets were intercepted, but one crashed down onto a house, causing damage but no casualties.

Israeli officials said 135 rockets were fired from Gaza at Israel on Monday, of which 42 were intercepted by Iron Dome, Most of the others landed in open areas.

On Sunday, a new volley of Palestinian rockets totaled nearly 100 by nightfall, including two that soared toward Tel Aviv but were knocked out of the sky by Israeli defenses.

In a statement on Monday, the Israel Defense Forces said overnight targets included "underground rocket launchers, terror tunnels, training bases, Hamas command posts and weapon storage facilities." But news reports said the strikes flattened two houses belonging to a single family, killing two children and two adults and injuring 42 people, while a shrapnel burst from another attack killed one child and wounded others living near the rubble of the former national security compound.

The latest exchanges offered a grim backdrop to Egyptian-led cease-fire efforts that have so far proved inconclusive. The United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, was set to join the effort in Cairo.

Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, the spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces, said there had been a reduction of up to 40 percent in rocket fire from Gaza, while Israeli forces had launched 40 attacks on tunnels between Egypt and Gaza, both at the entrances and along the road leading to them, causing considerable damage.

He said six rocket launching teams and two men on motorcycles were hit, while the Israeli forces continued to intercept Palestinian radio signals to urge Gaza residents to steer clear of activists.

In the Israeli strike on Sunday morning, it took emergency workers and a Caterpillar digger more than an hour to reveal the extent of the devastation under the two-story home of Jamal Dalu, a shop owner. Mr. Dalu was at the market when the blast wiped out nearly his entire family: His sister, wife, two daughters, daughter-in-law and four grandchildren ages 2 to 6 all perished under the rubble, along with two neighbors, an 18-year-old and his grandmother.

Ismail Haniya, the prime minister of the militant Hamas faction that rules Gaza, condemned the attack as a "massacre" that "exceeded all expectations."

General Mordechai, the spokesman for the Israeli military, said it was "examining the event."

"The wanted target in this case was responsible for firing dozens of rockets into Israel," he added. "I do not know what happened to him, but I do know that we are committed to the safety of the citizens of Israel."

The Dalu family were buried Monday after an intense, chaotic two-hour funeral procession that quickly became a Hamas rally clearly aimed at least in part at sending a strong message of defiance through the scores of journalists in the crowd. Thousands thronged the streets following the bodies from the destroyed Dalu home to the Esraa Mosque and then to the Sheikh Radwan cemetery, shouting slogans of resistance as fighters fired rifles into the air and waved the green Hamas flags as well as the white ones of the armed Al Qassam Brigades.

Outside the cemetery, a Qassam leader named Mosheer Al Masri spoke not about the victims but about the enemy.

"Tel Aviv, which we hit, will be hit over and over until you stop your crimes against our civilians," Mr. Masri said. "Your threats will not scare us, they will just make us stronger and more resistant."

He threatened a repeat of the 2006 kidnapping of Sgt. Gilad Shalit if Israel proceeded with a ground invasion, and vowed "revenge for the killing of these children." He offered a message to Israelis: "Your leaders are misleading you and will take you to hell."

"Our message to Netanyahu is that we will defeat you like we defeated your ancestors," he added. "We still have so much in our pockets and we will show you if we have to."

Fares Akram and Jodi Rudoren reported from Gaza City, and Alan Cowell from London. Reporting was contributed by Isabel Kershner from Ashkelon, Israel; Ethan Bronner, Myra Noveck and Irit Pazner Garshowitz from Jerusalem; Rina Castelnuovo from Ashdod, Israel; Peter Baker from Bangkok; and David D. Kirkpatrick from Cairo.

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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