Image: Destroyed Interior Ministry in Gaza
Mohammed Salem  /  Reuters
Palestinians sift through the remains of the detroyed Hamas-run Interior Ministry in Gaza City on Friday after what witnesses say was an Israeli airstrike. news services
updated 1/18/2008 11:19:54 AM ET 2008-01-18T16:19:54

Israel closed border crossings with the Gaza Strip and destroyed the Hamas-run Interior Ministry Friday in what witnesses said was an airstrike, stepping up what it says is a campaign to halt Palestinian rocket attacks.

It was not immediately clear which supplies would not be allowed into strip, said Defense Ministry spokesman Shlomo Dror. The territory, home to 1.4 million Palestinians, receives food and humanitarian supplies from Israel and aid organizations.

The four-story Interior Ministry complex in Gaza City was empty at the time but one woman was killed and at least 30 others nearby were wounded in a large explosion, medical officials said.

First strike against official building
It was the first Israeli strike against a government building since Hamas Islamists seized control of the Gaza Strip in June after routing secular Fatah forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Israel’s stepped up campaign in the coastal territory has prompted the Palestinians to caution that peace talks between Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, spurred by a visit by President Bush, were in jeopardy.

Israel has killed more than 30 Palestinians in Gaza since Monday. The Israeli army says it is targeting Gaza militants who have fired more than 110 rockets into the Jewish state in the last three days alone.

The rocket attacks persisted Friday, with 10 falling in Israel, police said, including one that hit Ashkelon, a town of 120,000 people. No injuries were reported.

Only humanitarian cases which receive Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s personal approval would be allowed through from Israel into Gaza, the Israeli Defense Ministry said.

“It’s time that Hamas decide to either fight or take care of its population,” Defense Ministry spokesman Dror said. “It’s unacceptable that people in (the southern Israeli town of) Sderot are living in fear every day and people in the Gaza Strip are living life as usual.”

‘Completely shut down’
Israel has imposed strict curbs on non-humanitarian supplies to Gaza since Hamas’ takeover.

“Gaza is completely shut down. This will only add to an already dire situation,” said Christopher Gunness, spokesman for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which provides food to refugees.

The tightening of the blockade could make life more difficult for Gaza’s already impoverished residents. Palestinians have suffered shortages of some food, fuel, spare car parts, computer paper and other supplies since Israel imposed the siege after Hamas seized the territory in June.

Dror said Gazans had enough food that no one would go hungry and assured “there will not be a humanitarian crisis in Gaza.”

Low-tech rockets present problems
Israel’s military has been unable to counter the low-tech, short-range rockets that have plagued Israel’s south for six years, killing 12 people. Airstrikes and pinpoint ground operations have killed hundreds of Gaza militants, and full-blown invasions have caused widespread casualties and damage — but none of the measures have stopped the rocket fire for long.

While ratcheting up its military response in Gaza, Israel has scaled back operations in the West Bank as it talks peace with Abbas’ government, and has granted amnesty to hundreds of Palestinian gunmen there. But some army raids continue, especially in the town of Nablus, considered a hotbed of militant activity.

Early Friday, Israeli troops in Nablus killed a wanted Palestinian militant from the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an armed group tied to Abbas’ Fatah movement, according to the military and Palestinian officials. The military said the man was responsible for planning suicide bombings and manufacturing weapons.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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