Israeli air strikes killed two Hamas militants in Gaza early yesterday, a day after Israel sealed the territory and bombed an empty Hamas government ministry in an intensifying campaign to halt rocket fire on Israeli border towns.
Friday's attack on the Palestinian Interior Ministry appeared to signal a new phase in the cross-border violence between Israel and Gaza.
An Israeli warplane bombed the empty building, flattening one wing, killing a woman at a wedding party next door and wounding at least 46 civilians, some of them children playing soccer in the street.
The blast blew out windows in neighboring high-rises, left hundreds without electricity and water and terrified residents.
In New York, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon implored Israel to reverse its unprecedented decision to close the border crossings completely, warning that the cutoff of supplies is provoking a humanitarian crisis among 1.4 million Gazans. For the past seven months, since the violent Hamas takeover of Gaza in June, Israel had severely restricted access to Gaza, but basic food supplies and fuel were still getting through.
The Gaza blockade and the bombing of the government ministry are part of an Israeli attempt to halt a surge of rocket fire on Israeli border towns. On Friday, 16 rockets hit southern Israel, including one that damaged a daycare center. Children were inside the building at the time, but no one was hurt.
Thirty-six Gazans have been killed in Israeli attacks since Tuesday, including at least 10 civilians.
Moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday denounced the Israeli air strikes as "brutal," but also accused Hamas of trying to destroy the Palestinians' national aspirations. Abbas, who controls the West Bank, reiterated his demand that rival Hamas relinquish power in Gaza. However, the air strikes and the blockade appeared to be increasing support for Hamas among Gazans.
Hamas was defiant yesterday, saying it would keep firing rockets at Israel.
"We will not surrender and we will not raise white flags," Hamas spokesman Ayman Taha said.
Early yesterday, Israeli forces backed entered Gaza and searched the town of Jebaliya. Hamas gunmen exchanged fire with the troops and Israeli aircraft fired three missiles, killing two Hamas fighters, hospital officials said.