What? Hamas had a “Security Chief?”
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) â€” Hamas officials are confirming that an Israeli airstrike killed the Hamas interior minister, who oversaw thousands of security agents in the Gaza Strip.
The Israeli army confirmed the airstrike.
Hamas television says Interior Minister Said Siam was killed in a strike that flattened a home in Gaza City. A top aide, Siam’s brother and his brother’s family were also killed.
Siam is considered to be among Hamas’ top five leaders in Gaza.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) â€” Israel shelled the United Nations headquarters in the Gaza Strip on Thursday, engulfing the compound and a warehouse in fire and destroying thousands of pounds of food and humanitarian supplies intended for Palestinian refugees.
U.N. workers and Palestinian firefighters, some wearing bulletproof jackets, struggled to douse the flames and pull bags of food from the debris after the Israeli attack, which was another blow to efforts to ease the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip. Dense smoke billowed from the compound.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who is in the region to end the devastating offensive against Gaza’s Hamas rulers, demanded a “full explanation” and said the Israeli defense minister told him there had been a “grave mistake.”
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said the military fired artillery shells at the U.N. compound after Hamas militants opened fire from the location. Three people were wounded.
“It is absolutely true that we were attacked from that place, but the consequences are very sad and we apologize for it,” he said. “I don’t think it should have happened and I’m very sorry.”
A senior Israeli military officer had also said Israeli troops shelled the compound after coming under fire from Palestinian militants there â€” an account dismissed by a U.N. official there at the time as “nonsense.”
Even as a top Israeli envoy went to Egypt to discuss a cease-fire proposal, the military pushed farther into Gaza in an apparent effort to step up pressure on Hamas. Ground forces thrust deep into a crowded neighborhood for the first time, sending terrified residents fleeing for cover. Shells also struck a hospital, five high-rise apartment buildings and a building housing media outlets in Gaza City, injuring several journalists.
Bullets also entered another building housing The Associated Press offices, entering a room where two staffers were working but wounding no one. The Foreign Press Association, representing journalists covering Israel and the Palestinian territories, demanded a halt to attacks on press buildings.
The army had collected the locations of media organizations at the outset of fighting to avoid such attacks.
Olmert’s office said U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice telephoned him on Thursday, and he told her Israel hoped Egyptian mediators could help bring about a cease-fire and an end to weapons smuggling. The statement said Rice, who leaves office on Jan. 20, said the U.S. was willing to help resolve the smuggling issue.
Israel launched its war on Dec. 27 in an effort to stop militant rocket fire from Gaza that has terrorized hundreds of thousands of Israelis. Some 1,100 Palestinians have been killed, roughly half of them civilians, according to U.N. and Palestinian medical officials. Gaza health official Dr. Moaiya Hassanain said at least 70 people were killed or died of wounds throughout Gaza on Thursday.
Thirteen Israelis also have been killed since the campaign began. Israel says it will press ahead until Hamas halts the rocket fire and stops smuggling weapons into Gaza from neighboring Egypt.
Israeli police said 20 rockets hit southern Israel on Thursday, injuring 10 people. Five of the wounded were in a car that was struck in the city of Beersheba.
Officials from the Israeli military and Shin Bet security agency said Said Siam, the Hamas interior minister who controlled the militant group’s feared security forces, was killed while hiding in his brother’s home in Gaza City. Siam is considered to be among Hamas’ top five leaders in Gaza.
The Israeli officials spoke on condition of anonymity pending a formal announcement by the military.
Palestinian medical officials confirmed the house was attacked, but there was no word from Hamas on Siam’s fate.
The U.N. compound struck Thursday houses the U.N. Works and Relief Agency, which distributes food aid to hundreds of thousands of destitute Gazans in the tiny seaside territory of 1.4 million people.
“I conveyed my strong protest and outrage to the defense minister and foreign minister and demanded a full explanation,” said Ban, who arrived in Israel on Thursday morning from Egypt.
It had only that morning become a makeshift shelter for 700 Gaza City residents seeking sanctuary from relentless Israeli shelling, U.N. officials in Gaza said.
John Ging, director of UNRWA operations in Gaza, said the attack at the compound caused a “massive explosion” that wounded three people.
A senior Israeli military officer said troops opened fire after militants inside the compound shot anti-tank weapons and machine guns. The officer spoke on condition of anonymity pending a formal army announcement later in the day.
Ging, who was in the compound at the time, dismissed the Israeli account as “nonsense.”
Israeli shells first hit the courtyard filled with refugees, then struck garages and the U.N.’s main warehouse, sending thousands of tons of food aid up in flames, Ging said. Later, fuel supplies went up in flames, sending a thick black plume of smoke into the air.
“It’s a total disaster for us,” Ging said, adding that the U.N. had warned the Israeli military that the compound was in peril from shelling that had begun overnight. U.N. officials say they have provided Israel with GPS coordinates of all U.N. installations in Gaza to prevent such attacks.
The refugees were moved to a school away from the immediate fighting, he said.
Separately, Israel shells landed next to a U.N. school in another Gaza City neighborhood, wounding 14 people who had sought sanctuary there, medics and firefighters said.
An Israeli attack near a U.N. school in northern Gaza earlier this month killed nearly 40 people. At the time, Israel said militants had fired on army positions from the beginning.
Barzak reported from Gaza City; Teibel from Jerusalem. Associated Press writers Karin Laub and Ian Deitch in Jerusalem, and Sarah El Deeb in Cairo contributed to this report.
|Palestinian firefighters work to try and put out a fire and save bags of food aid at the United Nations headquarters after it was hit in Israeli bombardment in Gaza City, Thursday, Jan. 15, 2009. Israeli forces shelled the United Nations headquarters in the Gaza Strip on Thursday, setting the compound on fire as U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon was in the area on a mission to end Israel’s devastating offensive against the territory’s Hamas rulers. (AP Photo/Majed Hamdan)|