Taghreed El-Khodary, Isabel Kershner
The New York Times
January 2, 2009 - 1:00am

Israeli warplanes pounded Hamas targets in Gaza for a seventh day on Friday while Israel allowed hundreds of foreigners, many of them married to Palestinians, to leave the enclave, raising fears here that Israel was planning to escalate its week-old campaign.

Tensions spread to the West Bank and East Jerusalem, where Palestinian anger at reports of civilian casualties in Gaza seemed to be translating into at least a temporary increase in popular sympathy for Hamas.

Israel has vowed to press its offensive until there is no more rocket fire out of Gaza; its troops and tanks remained along the border, poised for a possible ground invasion.

Palestinian militants continued to launch salvos of rockets at southern Israel on Friday, with several hitting the coastal city of Ashkelon, lightly injuring two Israeli women there.

Israeli air and naval forces pummeled more bases of Hamas, the Islamic group that controls Gaza. The military said it hit the houses of several Hamas militants that also served as weapons depots as well as tunnels used for weapons smuggling and missile launching sites.

Warplanes also bombed a mosque in Jabaliya, northern Gaza. The military said Hamas was using the mosque as a terrorist base and was storing rockets there.

It was the mosque where Nizar Rayyan, the senior Hamas militant leader killed in an Israeli strike on Thursday, used to preach. Mr. Rayyan’s four wives, at least nine of his children and several neighbors were killed when his home was bombed.

About 2,000 Gazans turned out for the funeral rally in Jabaliya on Friday. Speakers called for revenge as Israeli fighter jets swooped threateningly overhead.

With Hamas calling for Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem to make Friday a “day of wrath,” a few thousand turned out in Ramallah, the administrative headquarters of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

In Israeli-controlled East Jerusalem, police came out in force to prevent disturbances after noon prayers. Small riots broke out in some Arab neighborhoods around the city, but most were quickly dispersed. And in Hebron, protesters clashed with Palestinian police, leaving at least 10 injured.

Local residents went out to pray at mosques and to shop for essentials, but did not linger. Many families were evacuating buildings located near Hamas compounds.

Medical officials in Gaza said that 430 Palestinians have been killed and some 2,200 injured since the Israeli campaign began last Saturday. The casualty figures include many Hamas security personnel, but the United Nations has estimated that a quarter of those killed were civilians.

Three Israeli civilians and one soldier have been killed in rocket attacks in the past week, as Hamas deployed its more advanced, longer-range projectiles capable of hitting Israeli cities over 20 miles away.

Hundreds of spouses of Palestinians, including women from Russia, Romania, Ukraine and Western Europe, left Gaza on Friday with the help of diplomats from their countries.

Alla Semaks, a 34-year-old Ukrainian married to a Palestinian, and her four children were among around 300 people who came in buses to the Erez checkpoint in northern Gaza to cross into Israel. Her husband, Mohammed Atawneh, 36, was not leaving because he had only Palestinian identity papers, she said in a telephone interview.

“I want to come back when the situation allows it,” she said. “I have nothing in Ukraine. My children are very afraid for their father. We fear there will be an Israeli ground offensive.”

A Gaza teenager, Jawaher Hajji, who said she had lost two close relatives in the past week, described a scene of growing desperation in the enclave. “There is no water, no electricity, no medicine,” Ms. Hajji, a 14-year-old who has United States citizenship, told The Associated Press. “It’s hard to survive. Gaza is destroyed. There is no place to hide.”

At the United Nations, officials moved beyond calls for an immediate cease-fire, saying that an international monitoring mechanism needed to be established in Gaza to prevent future outbreaks of violence.

“We will need a monitoring mechanism if we do not want to repeat the mistakes of the past,” said Robert Serry, the United Nations special coordinator for the Middle East peace process.

His comments were echoed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

“We are working toward a cease-fire that would not allow a reestablishment of the status quo ante where Hamas can continue to launch rockets out of Gaza,” she said in Washington. “It is obvious that that cease-fire should take place as soon as possible, but we need a cease-fire that is durable and sustainable.”

Both Israel and the Western-backed Palestinian Authority have been working assiduously to subdue Hamas in the West Bank since the Islamic group took over Gaza in 2007, routing the Authority’s forces there.

But the events in Gaza and the gruesome images broadcast repeatedly by the Arabic television networks are stirring strong emotions among West Bank Palestinians, who are directing most of their anger at Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

The authority’s security forces had been instructed to prevent any popular displays of support for Hamas and clashes with Israeli forces, by keeping protesters away from Israeli army checkpoints and other flashpoints, leading some Palestinians to accuse the authority of colluding with Israel.

Muneer al-Zughair, a spokesman in Jerusalem for the families of Palestinian prisoners, said that Hamas has been strengthened by what he called “the massacre” in Gaza. “People feel that they are the only ones who are doing something for the Palestinian people,” he said.

At the entrance to the Shuafat refugee camp on the edge of Jerusalem, Palestinian youths burned tires and threw stones toward an Israeli checkpoint where soldiers stood in full riot gear.

A man from the camp, who identified himself only as Qassem, said that, “everyone is against what is happening in Gaza. The Israeli army are the terrorists.”

Many denounced the bombing of mosques and the deaths of civilians.

“Let them go in on the ground and take Hamas, but spare the children,” said a taxi driver from the camp who identified himself by his first name, Yasir. The missiles from the air “do not differentiate,” he said.

At a news briefing at the White House on Friday, the deputy press secretary Gordon Johndroe said that Israel has a right to defend itself from the rocket attacks out of Gaza. But he added that Israel also needed to “avoid unnecessary civilian casualties,” and to continue the flow into Gaza of humanitarian goods.


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