Israeli forces bombed the Gaza Strip from the air and sea yesterday, killing a senior Hamas commander, while desperate residents of the Palestinian enclave sheltered in their homes as the offensive entered a second week.
Basic foodstuffs in the densely populated zone were running short and fresh water supplies were limited because of damage to the systems, humanitarian agencies said. Hospitals were struggling to cope with the casualties.
Israeli tanks and troops were massed on Gaza’s borders in readiness for a ground invasion that the Jewish state’s government could order unless international diplomatic efforts to arrange a ceasefire gain momentum.
A Hamas leader warned that the Israeli army would be defeated if it invaded Gaza.
But an overnight Israeli air strike yesterday killed Abu Zakaria al-Jamal, a senior commander of Hamas’ armed wing, the Islamist group said.
On Thursday, another Hamas leader, Nizar Rayyan, was killed and most of Hamas’ senior officials have gone into hiding to evade assassination attempts by Israel.
At least 20 air strikes targeted Gaza yesterday morning and naval vessels shelled the area from the Mediterranean coast, witnesses said.
War planes hit a private Palestinian college called the American School, killing a guard. The Israeli military said the school was a hiding place for Hamas activists and a base for firing rockets.
Israel launched the offensive on Dec. 27 with the stated aim of stopping Hamas rocket attacks on Israeli towns from Gaza.
Since then, about 430 Palestinians have been killed and 2,000 wounded, at least a quarter of them civilians, the UN said.
Targets have included the Islamic university, mosques, government buildings and civil police stations, which Israel says are used as bases by Hamas militants.
Two people were lightly wounded yesterday when a Hamas rocket struck an eight-story building in Ashdod and another rocket struck an empty house in Ashkelon, setting it ablaze, Israeli ambulance workers said.
Four Israelis have been killed by Hamas rockets since the beginning of hostilities. Long-range weapons have hit the port of Ashdod and the town of Beersheba, forcing schools to close and residents to flee.
The plight of the 1.5 million Palestinians crammed into Gaza was grim.
“Nobody feels safe,” an International Committee of the Red Cross worker said in a situation report on the ICRC Web site.
“The problem is that we have nowhere to run for shelter,” the worker said.
Bombs have damaged the water system, but it was too dangerous for the aid workers to help with repairs, the report said.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was urging world leaders to intensify efforts to achieve a ceasefire with international monitors to enforce a truce and possibly to protect Palestinian civilians, a UN official said on Friday.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and several Arab foreign ministers were flying to New York over the weekend to urge the UN Security Council to adopt an Arab draft resolution that would condemn Israel and demand a halt to its bombing campaign in Gaza.
But the US said the draft was “unacceptable” and “unbalanced” because it made no mention of halting rockets aimed at southern Israel.
Experts met behind closed doors on Friday afternoon to discuss the Arab draft and it is expected to be at the heart of UN discussions starting tomorrow.