The UN scaled back some of its Gaza operations after three staff members were injured when an Israeli tank shell landed in the UNRWA compound. Meanwhile, Hamas announced its interior minister Saeed Seyyam had been killed in an air strike.
Israel has killed one of Hamas's top leaders in Gaza, interior minister Saeed Seyyam, the most senior Islamist to have been killed in the 20-day-old war in the enclave, Hamas television has reported.
"Leader Saeed Seyyam, his son and his brother fell as martyrs in Gaza," reported Al-Quds television, a Hamas station based in Beirut.
A Hamas website confirmed the report.
The three died in an Israeli air strike on the house of Seyyam's brother north of Gaza City.
Seyyam belonged to the hardline wing of Hamas and had created the Executive Force, a militia that played a key role in the Islamist takeover of Gaza in June 2007.
The Israeli military confirmed the strike.
"In a joint operation of the IDF (Israeli Defence Forces) and the Shin Beth (internal security) a short while ago, jets attacked a building" in Gaza while Saeed Seyyam was inside with his brother Iyad and a third person, an army spokeswoman told AFP.
"We identified hitting the target."
UN compound bombed
Earlier on Thursday The UN suspended some of its operations in Gaza after Israeli shells smashed into its compound, setting fire to warehouses full of of badly-needed aid and prompting outrage from UN chief Ban Ki-moon as he arrived in Israel.
"Israeli tank shells fell inside the UNRWA complex in Gaza, injuring three of its employees," spokesman Adnan Abu Hasna told AFP. "We have decided to suspend all our operations."
Hasna later clarified that the operations were being suspended only inside the compound in Gaza City.
"We will continue our operations in the Gaza Strip but we are suspending them in the compound of Gaza City since the trucks with aid cannot leave the area following the fire," he said.
According to another official of UNRWA, the UN's main agency for Palestinian refugees, one of the buildings set ablaze in the attack contained "hundreds of tonnes" of relief aid.
Chris Gunness, a Jerusalem-based spokesman for the agency, said hundreds of people had been taking refuge inside the compound when it was hit.
"The building is on fire and we are unable to put it out. Five field vehicles are inside the compound," he said.
"I have conveyed my strong protest and outrage and demanded a full explanation from the defence minister and foreign minister," Ban told reporters in Tel Aviv.
Ban said Defence Minister Ehud Barak had assured him the incident had been "a grave mistake" which was being taken "very seriously."
In a separate incident, two cameramen were wounded when an Israeli strike hit a building in Gaza City housing several international and Arab media outlets, witnesses said.
The two cameramen worked for Abu Dhabi television, officials told AFP.
The Al-Shuruq tower, located in the Rimal neighbourhood in the centre of Gaza City, houses several media outlets, including the Reuters news agency and television stations Fox, Sky and Al-Arabiya.
Israeli tanks push deeper into Gaza's cities
Israeli tanks began moving ever deeper into Gaza cities in the early morning hours, barrelling into several neighbourhoods of the enclave's capital and into a major city in the south, witnesses and correspondents said.
The sound of tank shells ripped through the air like thunderclaps and thick black smoke rose into the air from the neighbourhoods of Tal al-Hawa, Zeitun and Shujaiyeh in Gaza City, the coastal strip's main urban hub, they said.
Battles raged in the northern town of Jabaliya and ground troops backed by dozens of tanks lunged at least one kilometre (less than a mile) into the southern town of Khan Yunis.
Dozens of terrified civilians loaded with babies, toddlers and children fled to the Al-Quds hospital in Tal Al-Hawa, an outlying area in the southwest of Gaza City, that has been the site of repeated Israeli ground incursions over the past week.
The sound of tank shells, air strikes, artillery, helicopter gunships and automatic gunfire mixed into a general cacophony as the battles unfolded less than 300 metres (yards) from the hospital.
Armed Hamas fighters dressed in blue and black uniforms, one of them carrying the green flag of his Islamist movement, ran down a street 100 metres from the hospital, firing Kalashnikov rifles.
Inside the hospital residents of the neighbourhood huddled where they could. Mothers tried to console their crying children and to make them laugh.
"I brought the children to the hospital because they were scared at home, but here they are even more terrified," said Hossein, 40, who came with his wife and five children shortly after the tanks rolled in after dawn.
"The house next door was completely destroyed in the fighting so we had to get out of there. We can't take this any longer. Look at my children, they're trembling."
Nearby Bashar Murad, a doctor and the head of the ambulance services for the Red Crescent, waited helplessly.
"I have three dead bodies at 500 metres, but I can't get to them," he said. "I have numerous wounded less than a kilometre away, but I can't move without authorisation," Murad said.
Before the ambulances can move, the International Committee of the Red Cross must call the Israeli army and receive a green light to move in a certain area, he said.
"It's hard for me to stay here while people may be dying. But I don't have a choice."
Date created : 2009-01-15