IAF strikes 35 targets in Gaza Strip

Home of another top Hamas terrorist destroyed; Hamas TV says 1 dead, 5 hurt in strike on airport.

smoke over gaza 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
smoke over gaza 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
There was no sign of respite in IAF air raids on the seventh day of Operation Cast Lead on Friday, as aircraft destroyed the Gaza homes of more than a dozen Hamas terror operatives, a day after one of the group's top five leaders, Sheikh Nizar Rayyan, was killed in a northern Gaza air strike. Overnight Friday, the IAF continued to strike Hamas targets in the northern Strip, Israel Radio reported. The radio station also quoted a Hamas spokesman who claimed the terror group's men had foiled an attempt by IDF soldiers to infiltrate Gaza City. Hamas reported that its men identified a group of IDF soldiers in the outskirts of Gaza's Shajaiyeh neighborhood close to the border with Israel. A spokesperson for Hamas reportedly said that the soldiers retreated after Hamas gunmen fired six mortar shells at them. The Jerusalem Post could not confirm the report. Earlier on Friday night, a Hamas television station said that the IAF on bombed an airport in the Gaza Strip, Israel Radio reported. One person was reported dead in the attack, and five wounded. Throughout Friday, IAF planes attacked 35 targets in the Strip, including homes of Hamas terrorists, weapons caches, and smuggling tunnels, according to Israel Radio. In an earlier strike, the IAF hit the house of top Hamas terror operative Imad Akel on Friday afternoon. It was unclear if Akel was home at the time, but secondary blasts were heard, indicating the presence of weapons and explosives in the home, the IDF said. Palestinians reported that another of the houses struck in the attack belonged to former Hamas refugee minister Atef Adwan. The air force also bombed the home of Hamas terror operative Muhammad Ma'tuk in Jabalya, northern Gaza, the army said. The IDF said that the house was used as an arms warehouse and weapons lab, and also contained an opening to a tunnel used by Hamas. Palestinians and Israeli defense officials said that prior to the air strikes, the IDF either warned nearby residents by phone or fired a warning missile to reduce civilian casualties. IAF aircraft also dropped leaflets east of Gaza giving a confidential phone number and e-mail address for people to report locations of rocket squads. Residents appeared to ignore the leaflets, stepping over them as they passed by. Most of the targeted homes Friday belonged to Hamas terror chiefs and appeared to be empty at the time, but one man was killed in a strike that flattened a building in the Jabalya refugee camp in northern Gaza. Separate air strikes killed two other Palestinians, according to Gaza Health Ministry official Dr. Moaiya Hassanain. IAF aircraft also fired missiles as five smuggling tunnels under the Philadelphi Corridor. The IDF confirmed hitting the tunnels. In addition, the IAF responded swiftly to the morning's attacks on Ashkelon, striking the terror cell responsible for firing four Grad rockets at the city. Fear of IAF attacks led to sparse turnout at Friday's communal prayers at mosques throughout Gaza, but thousands of people attended a memorial service for Rayyan. Throngs of people prayed over the rubble of his home and the destroyed mosque nearby. Overnight Thursday and early Friday, as Operation Cast Lead entered its seventh day, IAF and naval forces attacked some 20 Hamas targets throughout the Gaza Strip. The army said that among the sites targeted was a mosque in Jabalya used as a terror hub by Hamas. The IDF said in a statement that the mosque was used as a storage site for a large amount of Grad missiles and additional weaponry. The strike set off a lengthy series of secondary explosions and a large fire, caused by the munitions stockpiled in the mosque, continued the statement, adding that the mosque was also used as a center of Hamas operations, as a meeting place for its terror operatives and a staging ground for attacks. The mosque was identified with Rayyan. Also targeted in the overnight and early morning strikes were: the headquarters of the Hamas military wing, a vehicle transporting anti-aircraft missiles, a tunnel used to smuggle weaponry, rocket launchers loaded and prepared for use, as well as weapons manufacturing and storage facilities, said the army. The IDF reiterated that it would continue to target infrastructure used by Hamas and other Gaza terror organizations, and would not hesitate to strike those involved both directly and indirectly in attacks against Israelis. More than 400 Gazans have been killed and some 1,700 have been wounded since Operation Cast Lead began on Saturday, Gaza health officials said. The number of terrorists and civilians killed is unclear, but Hamas said around half of the dead are members of its security forces and the UN said more than 60 are civilians. Meanwhile, following Rayyan's death, Ismail Radwan, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza, called on Hamas's armed wing to harm "Zionist interests" everywhere, Israel Radio reported. The attack on Rayyan's Jabalya home liquidated him and wiped out nearly his entire family. All four of his wives were killed along with eleven of his dozen children. His one surviving son told Al-Jazeera that the children were aged 1-16. He said he was not expecting the air force to be targeting his father.