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Israel airstrike kills senior Hamas minister

   In this Feb. 2, 2008 file photo senior Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar, left, and top Hamas official Said Siam, right, return from Egypt at the border a...
 Palestinian firefighters walk inside the United Nations headquarters after it was hit in Israeli bombardment in Gaza City, Thursday, Jan. 15, 2009. I...
 Palestinians gather around the crater caused by an Israeli strike which hit the house of top Hamas official Said Siam's brother in Gaza City, Thursda...

MIDEAST ISRAEL PALESTINIANS

In this Feb. 2, 2008 file photo senior Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar, left, and top Hamas official Said Siam, right, return from Egypt at the border a...

MIDEAST ISRAEL PALESTINIANS

Palestinian firefighters walk inside the United Nations headquarters after it was hit in Israeli bombardment in Gaza City, Thursday, Jan. 15, 2009. I...

MIDEAST ISRAEL PALESTINIANS

Palestinians gather around the crater caused by an Israeli strike which hit the house of top Hamas official Said Siam's brother in Gaza City, Thursda...

Israel struck at the heart of Hamas Thursday, killing one of its most senior leaders and pushing deeper into Gaza City, as moves towards a temporary ceasefire inched forward.

Hamas reportedly told Egypt, which is brokering talks, that it would agree a year-long renewable ceasefire in Gaza if Israel pulled out its forces within seven days and reopened border crossings immediately.

Israel's envoy to Cairo returned to Jerusalem last night with details of Hamas's position. After a meeting between Israel's leaders, the Israeli foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, was due to fly to Washington to finalize an accord aimed at delivering Israel's key condition for a ceasefire: preventing Hamas from rearming.

Ayman Taha, a Hamas spokesman, said it wanted Israel to leave Gaza within two weeks, to end the siege and to open the crossings with European and Turkish observers looking on. Hamas also wants the Palestinian Authority and international monitors posted at the crossing into Egypt, at Rafah in Gaza's south.

Taha said that if Israel fulfilled these conditions it would reconsider extending the truce beyond one year.

Israeli jets yesterday bombed a house in the Jabaliya refugee camp, killing the Hamas interior minister, Said Siam, the most senior Hamas leader to be killed since 2004, when Israel assassinated Dr Abdel Aziz Al Rantissi, a founding member of the militant Islamist group.

A Hamas official vowed vengeance for Siam's death. "The blood of Said Siam will be a curse on the Zionist entity," Muhammad Nazzal told al-Jazeera television.

Earlier Israel shelled the main UN compound housing the Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). The aid agency distributes food to 750,000 of the 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza.

Israel struck the compound where up to 700 Palestinians were sheltering shortly after the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, had arrived in Israel.

Ban, who was in the region to press for an end to the violence, described the two hits on the compound as "intolerable". "I conveyed my strong protest and outrage to the defense minister and the foreign minister. The defense minister said it was a grave mistake. He assured me that extra attention will be paid to UN facilities and staff and this will not be repeated."

Israel's Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, said that Israeli troops had retaliated against Hamas militants who were firing from within the compound. He later apologized, saying the response was "harsh".

It was the second time in this conflict that Israel has alleged that militants have used a UN compound to launch attacks. UNRWA's head in Gaza, John Ging, said the claim "was nonsense".

Having refused to negotiate directly with Hamas since it was elected in 2006, Israel wants to ensure that an internationally brokered ceasefire does not deliver the militants the recognition they crave.

Ban said that he believed a truce could soon be reached. "There are certain elements in place that would enable a ceasefire, but it hinges on the political will of both sides," he told the media.


Updated : 2021-02-27 09:43 GMT+08:00