Hamas orders 'day of wrath' over Israel blitz
Agence France-Presse
Published: Friday January 2, 2009

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GAZA CITY (AFP) - Israeli warplanes pounded militant targets including a mosque in Gaza on Friday as Hamas ordered a "day of wrath" against Israel over the killing of a senior commander.

Thousands of Israeli security personnel were on alert after Hamas called for "massive marches" following the main weekly Muslim prayers, starting off from the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem and from all mosques in the West Bank.

"Police has been placed on a heightened state of alert throughout the country, just under the maximum level that is in effect in war time," police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP.

Thousands of officers were deployed around annexed Arab east Jerusalem alone, he said.

The army also locked down the West Bank for 48 hours, with movement in and out of the territory prohibited except for emergencies and special cases.

Hamas called a "day of wrath" after an Israeli air strike killed Nizar Rayan , a firebrand hardliner, and several of his wives and children. At least 422 Palestinians have now been killed in Israel's seven-day-old blitz.

Rayan is the most senior Islamist figure killed by Israel since Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi in 2004 and Hamas again warned that it could resume suicide operations against Israel for the first time since January 2005 to avenge his death.

"After the last crime, all options are open to counter this aggression, including martyr operations against Zionist targets everywhere," Hamas official Ismail Radwan vowed after the attack.

With tanks and troops massed for a threatened ground offensive around Gaza and no ceasefire in sight, the army allowed foreigners to leave the battered enclave.

"The (border) crossing was specially reopened to allow foreign nationals to leave the Gaza Strip," an army spokesman told AFP, adding that more than 400 people, mostly dual nationals, were expected to cross.

The Israeli military pounded the densely populated territory for a seventh day, carrying out some 20 strikes overnight, bombing rocket launching sites and Hamas buildings, the army said.

Among the targets was a mosque in the northern town of Jabaliya that the military said was a "terror hub," used to stockpile weapons and as a Hamas operations centre.

At least two people were killed in the latest raids, which targeted a house in Jabaliya, medics said.

The Islamist movement kept firing back, sending a handful of rockets slamming into Israeli territory overnight without causing casualties.

Israel unleashed its "Operation Cast Lead" on Hamas in Gaza on Saturday in response to persistent rocket fire from the territory, which has been under a crippling Israeli blockade since the Islamists seized control in June 2007.

At least 422 Palestinians have now been killed in the offensive and a further 2,180 wounded, according to medics. At least 25 percent of those killed are civilians, according to a UN count.

Gaza militants have fired more than 360 rockets into Israel, killing four people and wounding dozens more. Some of the rockets have reached deeper than ever inside Israeli territory, penetrating some 40 kilometres (24 miles) from the Gaza border.

The Israeli offensive -- one of its deadliest-ever on Gaza -- has sparked angry protests in the Muslim world and defied diplomatic efforts to broker a truce.

In the latest protests, more than 4,000 Muslims demonstrated in Sydney and hundreds of Muslims burnt Israeli flags in Indian-administered Kashmir.

UN Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni reiterated that Israel does not think the time is yet ripe for a truce after talks in Paris on Thursday with President Nicolas Sarkozy and other French leaders.

"The question of whether it's enough or not will be the result of our assessment on a daily basis," she said.

Peace moves were also stalled at the UN Security Council even though UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the conflict had become "a dramatic crisis."

The civilian population in Gaza and stability throughout the Middle East "are trapped between the irresponsibility displayed in the indiscriminate rocket attacks by Hamas militants and the disproportionality of the continuing Israeli military operation," Ban said.

The majority of the Israeli public is supporting the Gaza offensive, with some 95 percent of Jewish residents backing the strikes according to a survey published on Friday in the Maariv daily.