Airstrikes continue to target Hamas leaders

    * Story Highlights
    * NEW: More airstrikes hit northern and southern Gaza as Israel steps up 
    * Former Hamas interior minister killed by Israeli artillery
    * Israeli prime minister expresses sorrow over strike on U.N. compound
    * Prime Minister Ehud Olmert says militants were firing near U.N. compound

RAFAH, Gaza (CNN) -- More airstrikes rattled northern and southern Gaza early 
Friday morning as Israeli forces stepped up their campaign against the 
Palestinian territory's Hamas leaders.

Streets were deserted after sundown in Rafah, along the Egyptian border, as 
Israeli airstrikes shook buildings a kilometer (0.63 miles) from the target. No 
running water was available Friday, and stocks of food were running low, CNN 
Senior International Correspondent Ben Wedeman reported from Rafah.

The latest strikes followed the heaviest shelling of the Palestinian territory 
since Israel launched its military operation nearly three weeks ago. Israel's 
push deep into Gaza City triggered heavy battles with Hamas militants, and the 
third-ranking Hamas leader in the territory died in an Israeli airstrike 
Thursday, the Islamic militant group reported.

Other bombardments set the United Nations' main relief aid compound afire and 
damaged a Red Crescent hospital and a foreign journalists' building.

The Al-Quds Hospital, run by the Palestine Red Crescent Society, was hit twice 
Thursday -- the second time around 10:30 p.m., leaving the facility in flames 
and forcing the staff and patients to evacuate to the streets. The hospital is 
located in the Tal Al-Hawa neighborhood, west of central Gaza City. VideoWatch 
what opinions the iReport community are voicing on the conflict »

Meanwhile, Hamas announced that Israeli forces killed Saeed Siam, along with 
his son and brother, and vowed to avenge his death.

"His blood will be the fuel for the coming victory" according to a statement on 
Hamas television, Al-Aqsa TV.

Al-Aqsa TV said Siam was killed "in the latest shelling on a house" in Gaza 
City's Sheikh Radwan neighborhood. It showed images of a body that it said 
belonged to Siam. VideoWatch what little is left of Siam's house »

Siam served as interior minister in the Hamas-led government before it was 
dissolved in 2007. He is considered to be the third most senior member of 
Hamas' leadership in Gaza, behind former Prime Minister Ismail Haniya and 
former Foreign Minister Mahmoud al-Zahar.

The Israeli military said its aircraft struck a house near Gaza City where it 
believed three senior Hamas operatives were present, including Siam. It had no 
details on casualties.

As it stepped up its military campaign, Israel on Thursday also dispatched 
senior Defense Ministry official Amos Gilad to Cairo to discuss a cease-fire 
proposal. A Hamas delegation is also in the Egyptian capital, talking with 
leaders there who are trying to hammer out a temporary truce.

Israeli officials have said that it was likely the Jewish state would increase 
its military incursion in Gaza as movement toward a cease-fire progressed.

Israel said it initiated the operation into Gaza -- which is controlled by 
Hamas -- to stop rocket fire on its southern cities and towns. Thirteen 
Israelis, including 10 soldiers, have died in the operation in Gaza and from 
rocket strikes on southern Israel, according to the Israeli military. More than 
1,000 Palestinians have been killed, including many civilians, Palestinian 
medics said. VideoWatch as civilians suffer most »

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is in the region as part of the diplomatic 
effort to secure a truce. He met with Israeli officials on Thursday, and 
condemned an Israeli strike that damaged the U.N. Relief and Works Agency's 
compound in Gaza City that sparked a massive fire and injured three people. 
VideoWatch as fire blazes at U.N. compound »

Speaking at a news conference in Tel Aviv with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi 
Livni, Ban said Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said the shelling of the 
compound "was a grave mistake and he took it very seriously." VideoWatch an 
Israeli response on the strike on the U.N. compound »

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert expressed sorrow over the incident, but 
maintained that Israeli forces were reacting to militant fire near the 
compound. UNRWA director John Ging denied there were any militants at the 
compound, and also said that at the time there was "no fighting in the vicinity 
of the compound."

UNRWA's headquarters -- located in a densely populated neighborhood -- was hit 
repeatedly by shrapnel and artillery, including white phosphorous shells -- the 
use of which is restricted under international law, according to Ging. Read an 
aid worker's diary

Some 700 Palestinians were taking shelter in the compound at the time.

Ging said that Olmert apologized to Ban over the incident.

There was no immediate comment from the Israeli military on the allegation of 
the use of white phosphorous, but Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev noted 
that Hamas is also armed with phosphorous shells and have recently fired them 
against Israelis.

According to the U.S.-based group Human Rights Watch, the use of white 
phosphorus to obscure military movements is "a permissible use in principle," 
but the substance can burn civilians and start fires in the densely populated 

The Israel Defense Forces initially denied using the ordnance. But by Monday, 
Israeli officials said only that any shells fired in Gaza "are in accordance 
with international law."

The Foreign Press Association has also complained to Israel regarding the 
shelling of international news agency offices in Gaza City on Thursday. 
Palestinian security sources said two employees for Abu Dhabi television were 
wounded in Thursday's incident.

The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross has also complained to 
Israeli leaders about the shelling of numerous humanitarian aid facilities, 
including Al-Quds Hospital run by the Palestine Red Crescent Society in Gaza 
City that was struck during Thursday's assault, sparking a fire.

The blaze "[risked] the lives of around 100 patients and the medical staff 
caring for them." the ICRC said.

ICRC president Jakob Kellenberger met Thursday with Livni and Barak to ask that 
its forces protect medical facilities and give the agency access to all parts 
of Gaza for humanitarian assistance.

CNN's Kevin Flower and Michal Zippori in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

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Watch as civilians suffer most »
Ban Ki-moon
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