2 Jan 2009

Israeli strike kills Hamas political leader

7:58 pm on 2 January 2009

A senior Hamas leader has been killed in an Israeli air strike on his home, as Israel continues its offensive in Gaza that has claimed more than 400 Palestinian lives.

Nizar Rayyan, a cleric widely regarded as one of Hamas's most hardline political leaders, had called for renewed suicide bombings inside Israel.

Medical officials said another nine people, including members of the cleric's family, were killed in the bombing in Jabalya refugee camp.

Many Hamas leaders are in hiding, anticipating assassination attempts by Israel, whose military confirmed the air strike.

Hamas Radio said Mr Rayyan, 49, rejected Hamas advice to leave his house.

Nizar Rayyan was an influential preacher at what is known in Jabalya as the "mosque of martyrs" and mentored suicide bombers.

Hours before the killing, Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel was fighting Hamas with an "iron fist".

Four people have been killed in southern Israel by Hamas rockets since the Israeli air strikes began on Saturday.

Israeli forces remained poised on the Gaza frontier in preparation for a possible ground invasion as international calls for an immediate ceasefire mounted.

The main UN agency operating in Gaza, Unwra, has resumed food deliveries, the BBC reports, but warned of a dire humanitarian situation in the territory.