Israel kills children in Gaza house bombing

Massive air strike on Gaza house

At least five people have been killed and 15 injured in a massive Israeli air strike on the Gaza City home of a prominent Hamas figure.

The Israeli military says Mohammed Deif, a Hamas bomb-maker who has topped Israel’s most wanted list for over 10 years, was injured in the attack.

Hamas have not yet confirmed that Deif was caught up in the raid, which was of sufficient force to destroy the house.

The attack happened as Israeli troops crossed the border into central Gaza.

Master bomber

The soldiers have moved a few hundred metres into farmland east of Khan Younis in an expansion of their offensive in the Palestinian territory, says the BBC’s Alan Johnston in Gaza.

The massive Israeli operation is aimed at releasing a captured soldier and halting Palestinian rocket attacks.

The Hamas official’s three storey home in Sheikh Redwan district north of Gaza City was completely destroyed in the Israeli air strike.

There was a great flash of light and then a thick cloud of jet black smoke rose into the night, our correspondent says.

Although there are frequent Israeli attacks on Hamas targets, it is nearly three years since the air force struck in Gaza with enough force to demolish a whole building in this way, our correspondent adds.

Children are reported to be among the several dead who have yet to be identified.

Israeli forces have attempted to assassinate Deif a number of times before and there have been reports of him being wounded in the past.

Jerusalem says Deif is a master bomb maker who has been behind numerous suicide bomb attacks in Israel.

Palestinian sources also reported a second Gaza air raid in which a car was targeted and three people injured.

Essentials running low

The attacks come at a time of extraordinary tension in Gaza with Israeli troops mounting a two-week offensive following the capture of Cpl Gilad Shalit by Palestinian militants during a raid on an Israeli border post on 25 June.

Over 50 Palestinians and one Israeli soldier have been killed during the confrontation.

Most of the dead have been Palestinian militants, but civilians have also died under Israeli fire and air strikes.

The militants who seized Cpl Shalit, along with exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, have been insisting that the soldier only be handed over in exchange for Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails.

However, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has ruled out any negotiations with the Hamas-led Palestinian government, calling the militant group a “terrorist bloody organisation”.

Israeli defence sources say that Mr Olmert and Defence Minister Amir Peretz gave the military a green light for “in depth” incursions into the Gaza Strip on Tuesday.

There are warnings that the military crisis could trigger a major humanitarian problem in Gaza, which is already having to deal with a Western aid embargo against the government led by Hamas, which is viewed as a terrorist organisation.

Reports in the Israeli media say supplies of essential goods such as flour and cooking oil are within days of running out, unless Israel reopens border crossings and allows free flow of goods.

Israel withdrew settlers and troops from Gaza last September after a 38-year presence, though it kept control of its airspace and most borders.