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
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.
All AboutHamas • Israel • Gaza • Ban Ki-moon
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Watch what opinions the iReport community are voicing on the conflict »
Watch what little is left of Siam's house »
Watch as civilians suffer most »
Watch as fire blazes at U.N. compound »
Watch an Israeli response on the strike on the U.N. compound »
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