Israeli warplanes pounded militant targets, including a mosque, in Gaza on Friday as angry protests followed Hamas's call for a "day of wrath". This follows seven days of Israeli air raids that have killed more than 400 people.
Thousands of Palestinians poured into the streets of Ramallah in the West Bank, and rock-throwing youths faced off with Israeli police in Jerusalem after Hamas called for protests on Friday in a national "day of wrath".
The demonstrations came as Israel pressed on with its aerial offensive on the Gaza Strip. On the seventh day of a bombing campaign aimed at stopping Hamas rocket attacks, an Israeli air strike near the town of Khan Yunis killed three Palestinian children aged between 8 and 12 years who were playing on a Gaza street, according to Palestinian medics.
The strikes followed another night of Israeli bombings in the Gaza Strip. More than 400 people have been killed and over 2,100 wounded since the Israeli onslaught began on Saturday, according to Palestinian medical sources. The UN says at least 25% of them are civilians.
Four Israelis have been killed by Hamas rockets fired into Israel since the campaign began on Saturday.
"Let Friday be a day of solidarity"
Friday's demonstrations came a day after an Israeli air strike in Gaza killed senior Hamas leader Nizar Rayyan. Rayyan is the most senior Hamas official to be killed in the current Israeli offensive, a loss that led the Islamist group to issue a call for mass demonstrations Friday.
"Let Friday be a day of solidarity with our people in Gaza and a day of wrath against the Zionist occupation and its settlers," wrote Hamas on its Web site. The Islamist group took control of Gaza in 2007 after ousting forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas's Fatah party.
Protests broke out on Friday in Australia, Philippines and Indonesia. More than 10,000 Muslims marched though the Indonesian capital after the Friday noon prayers, with some protesters aiming fake missiles labelled "Target: Tel Aviv, Israel" at the US embassy in Jakarta. In the Egyptian capital of Cairo, hundreds of riot police have been deployed at key mosques. Egyptian police detained about 20 members of the Muslim Brothers group ahead of the opposition group's call for mass protests, according to the Reuters news service.
Foreign citizens allowed to leave Gaza
On Friday Israel authorised the evacuation of more than 400 foreigners living in the Gaza Strip, mostly spouses of Gaza Palestinians. With a massive Israeli military deployment posted along the Gaza border, the move has renewed fears among Gazans about a possible Israeli ground incursion.
"Some observers see this as a signal that Israel is preparing an escalation in the fighting," said Annette Young, FRANCE 24's Jerusalem correspondent.
Reporting from Gaza, Zouheir al Naggar said panic is spreading among Gaza's residents. "This is the second day that there is serious talk of a ground offensive and people are really scared," said al Naggar. "The fact that Russian and American foreigners were given only a few hours to evacuate from the Red Cross centre this morning has added to these fears."
Hundreds of houses have been destroyed and international concern over the humanitarian situation in the densely populated coastal enclave is mounting. Food, fuel and medical supplies are all running short, according to international aid agencies. Speaking in Paris after talks with French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Thursday, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said there was "no humanitarian emergency" in the Gaza Strip.
But inside Gaza, Naggar said the humanitarian situation was grim. "Aid has reached Gaza, but only a minimal amount has been distributed to the population," he said. "It is in centres which are open only a few hours each day and are too close to potential bombing targets for civilians to dare to go there."
On Thursday, Livni reiterated Israel's rejection of an international proposal for a 48-hour ceasefire on humanitarian grounds, saying Hamas had used an earlier six-month truce period to build up its arms.
|Map of Israeli offensive in Gaza, Picture AFP|
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Date created : 2009-01-02