Jan 2, 2009

World - Israel kills Hamas leader, escalating offensive

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP): An Israeli warplane dropped a one-ton bomb on the home of a top Hamas leader on Thursday, instantly killing him and 18 others, and the Israeli army said troops massed on the Gaza border were ready for any orders to invade.

The attacks continued Friday. Before dawn, Israeli aircraft hit 15 houses belonging to Hamas militants, Palestinians said. They said the Israelis either warned nearby residents by phone or fired a warning missile to reduce civilian casualties. Twelve people were hurt in the attacks, hospital officials said.

The attack that killed Hamas strongman Nizar Rayan and most of his family was the first of several strikes on homes of Hamas figures to kill a leader from the group's top echelon since Israel's air campaign began on Saturday.

Even as it escalated its offensive, Israel maintained an opening for the intense diplomatic efforts by leaders in the Middle East and Europe trying to bring the sides to a truce. Israel said it would consider a halt to the fighting if international monitors were brought in to track compliance with any truce with Hamas.

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