Israel Vows Relentless Campaign Against Hamas

Israeli aircraft kept up a fierce assault on Hamas-ruled Gaza on Tuesday, smashing a government complex, security installations and the home of a top militant commander as thousands of Israeli ground troops, backed by tanks and artillery, massed along the border and waited for a signal to attack.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told President Shimon Peres on Tuesday that the current, aerial phase of the operation is “the first of several” that have been approved, an Olmert spokesman said.

Warplanes launched their bruising aerial offensive on Saturday after the Islamic Hamas defied Israel’s warnings that it would not stand for the rocket barrages on southern Israel that resumed nearly two months ago, toward the end of a recently expired truce.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Israel would use all legal means at its disposal to stop Hamas rocket attacks and his deputy, Matan Vilnai, said Israel was prepared for “long weeks of military action.”

More than 360 Palestinians have been killed, most of them members of Hamas security forces but at least 64 of them civilians, according to U.N. figures. The toll includes two sisters, aged 4 and 11, who perished in an airstrike on a rocket squad in northern Gaza on Tuesday.

Israeli Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit said “there is no room for a ceasefire” with Hamas before the threat of rocket fire has been removed. “The Israeli army must not stop the operation before breaking the will of the Palestinians, of Hamas, to continue to fire at Israel,” he told Israel Radio.

The Israeli military “has made preparations for long weeks of action,” added Matan Vilnai, a deputy defense minister, in separate broadcast remarks.

Militants, battered but unbowed, have pressed on with their rocket and mortar assaults, killing three Israeli civilians and a soldier and bringing a widening circle of targets into their sights with an arsenal of longer-range missiles.

“Zionists, wait for more from the resistance,” Hamas spokesman Ismail Radwan said in a text message to reporters, referring to militants’ armed struggle against Israel.

The military estimated that nearly 10 percent of Israel’s population of 7 million people is now within rocket range, shifting the battles closer to Israel’s heartland. Of the four Israelis killed since the operation began Saturday, all but one were in areas that had not suffered fatalities before.

Hamas, whose charter specifically calls for the destruction of the state of Israel, is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States, Canada, Japan, Australia, the United Kingdon and the European Union and is banned in Jordan.

From 2000 to 2004, Hamas was responsible for killing nearly 400 Israelis and wounding more than 2,000 in 425 attacks, according to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

From 2001 through May 2008, Hamas launched more than 3,000 Qassam rockets and 2,500 mortar attacks against Israeli targets.

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