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Israel Strikes Premier's Office in Gaza

July 02, 2006|Laura King | Times Staff Writer

GAZA CITY — An Israeli helicopter fired a missile early today into the office of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, intensifying pressure on the Hamas government in efforts to free an Israeli soldier held captive by militants claiming loyalty to the Islamist group.

Haniyeh was not in the four-story building at the time of the attack, which took place shortly before 2 a.m. Since Israel's incursion into the Gaza Strip last week, he has stayed largely out of sight, working primarily from his residence in a Gaza City refugee camp, where he lives with his wife and 11 children.

The Israeli strike was almost certainly not intended to kill Haniyeh, but appeared instead to be an explicit warning -- and a powerful symbolic show of displeasure over the continued captivity of the soldier, Cpl. Gilad Shalit.

The Israeli military confirmed that it had carried out the attack. Israel says it holds Haniyeh's government responsible for Shalit's abduction and weeklong captivity, even though the prime minister and other senior officials have disavowed any advance knowledge of the raid in which the soldier was captured.

Three militant groups, including one affiliated with Hamas' military wing, have claimed responsibility for the assault.

The roar of low-flying Israeli helicopter gunships filled the air before today's precision strike sent flames leaping into the sky over the darkened city. Haniyeh's office, in a compound in central Gaza City, is not far from the residence of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Three security guards were reported injured in the strike, which brought ambulances and Palestinian security forces racing to the scene.

A short time later, Israeli missiles hit a training camp in the Jabaliya refugee camp belonging to a controversial Hamas-run police force. A man believed to be a member of the unit was reported killed.

Haniyeh, like nearly all senior figures in Hamas, was the target of several assassination attempts before the militant group won Palestinian parliamentary elections in January and assumed control of the government two months later. Haniyeh was a personal aide to Sheik Ahmed Yassin, Hamas' spiritual leader, who was killed in an Israeli missile strike in March 2004.

Hours before the Israeli attacks, Abbas said the standoff over the captured soldier was at a "critical, sensitive" stage. He expressed hope that Shalit could be freed through mediation efforts.

A deputy minister in the Hamas government, Ziad abu Ain, said he had been told by an intermediary that the soldier had received treatment for wounds suffered in the June 25 raid and was in stable condition.

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