Hamas threatened reprisals against Israel, including the possibility of new suicide attacks, after an Israeli airstrike killed one of the Palestinian group's top officials Thursday. The ongoing fighting has also sparked concern in the UN about a humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
Agence France-Presse reports that Hamas called for a "day of wrath" in response to the death of Nizar Rayan, a party hardliner and military leader. Several of Mr. Rayan's wives and children were also killed in Thursday's attack.
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.
Rayan is the highest-profile casualty of the current hostilities between Israel and Hamas, which began a week ago. Haaretz reports that including the latest Israeli airstrikes Friday morning against Hamas targets, Palestinian deaths number at 425, with some 2,000 more injured. Also on Friday, Palestinian militias launched some 20 rockets at southern Israel, causing two minor injuries, reports The Jerusalem Post. The Post writes that three Israeli civilians and one Israeli soldier have been killed in the fighting.
He was uniquely popular and respected among the military wing; unlike most of the movement's civilian leadership, Rayan fought alongside troops in battles with Israeli soldiers and tanks.
He advocated suicide bombings, and his own son, 22, died in such an attack on an Israeli settlement.
Although most senior Hamas leaders went into hiding when the Israeli air barrages began, Rayan made a point of living openly in his home in the Jabaliya refugee camp. He encouraged other leaders to follow suit.
"He refused to leave his house; he preferred to be a martyr," the Hamas official said.
But Bloomberg writes that Hamas has proven capable of replacing assassinated leadership in the past, and is not apt to be seriously hampered by Rayan's death.
"Israel is mistaken if it thinks that by killing Hamas leaders it will put an end to the group," Mkhaimar Abusada, a professor of political science at Al-Azhar University in Gaza, said in a phone interview. "Hamas is a movement that has the support of 35 to 40 percent of the Palestinian people."...
"This is a morale blow to Hamas," said Abusada. "But it isn't going to have a problem finding new leaders. And killing its leaders only makes Hamas more extreme."
The Associated Press (AP) reports that Hamas appears to be withstanding the Israeli assault despite the losses it is suffering. The AP writes that Hamas's media outlets are still broadcasting, and the police, overseen by the Hamas government, still patrol the streets of Gaza.
"Israel has destroyed the buildings, but Hamas is still here," Ahmed Yousef, a Hamas spokesman, said Thursday, the sixth day of the bombing campaign. "There is no anxiety over the existence of Hamas — even if they destroy all of Gaza — because we are among the people."
Hamas' survival will depend on how far Israel is willing to go to obtain its declared objective: crippling the group's ability to fire rockets at Israeli towns and cities. Thousands of Israeli soldiers are amassed on Gaza's border, waiting for the signal to invade.
Yet Israel, which withdrew its troops from Gaza in 2005 after a 38-year occupation, also says it does not want to reoccupy the area. That suggests Hamas will be able to cling to power in Gaza, which it seized by force from moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in June 2007.
The AP adds that Hamas has launched some 400 rockets and shells at Israel since the fighting began last week, and Israeli officials say they believe Hamas has thousands of rockets in reserve.
The AP also reports that UN officials are expressing concern about an "alarming" humanitarian crisis in Gaza, due to a shortage of basic supplies caused by the fighting. John Holmes, the UN humanitarian chief, on Wednesday said, "Hospitals are obviously still struggling very much to cope with the number of casualties. We have continued to get some medical supplies in and to help them cope, but this remains difficult and fragile."
Karen Abu Zayd, commissioner of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, which helps Palestinian refugees, told reporters by video link from Gaza that the agency has not distributed any food for two weeks because of the shortage of supplies and the Israeli bombardment.
"I think that means that 20,000 people a day have been without food that they expect — and probably is the bulk of what they get," she said. "So people are doing pretty badly. Everyone we know is sharing whatever they have, not just with their families but with their neighbors."
"We haven't seen widespread hunger. We do see for the very first time ... people going through the rubbish dumps looking for things, people begging, which is quite a new phenomenon as well," she said.
Humanitarian concerns have also spurred calls for a ceasefire, writes The Washington Post. But Israeli officials deny there is a humanitarian crisis in the region, and allowed supplies into Gaza on Thursday.
Israel on Thursday allowed 93 trucks into the strip to deliver supplies. Israel accused Hamas of hoarding critically needed goods in order to create the impression that conditions in Gaza are worse than they actually are. Israel has not allowed foreign journalists into Gaza since its operation began, and the accusation could not be independently verified.
The International Committee of the Red Cross reported Thursday that humanitarian needs in Gaza are growing, despite the aid shipments. The organization said electricity, cooking gas and water are all in extremely short supply.
Speaking in Paris after meetings with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, [Israel Foreign Affairs Minister Tzipi] Livni said there is no humanitarian reason for a cease-fire.
"There is no humanitarian crisis in the strip, and therefore there is no need for a humanitarian truce," she said. "Israel has been supplying comprehensive humanitarian aid to the strip."