NYTimes wrote:JERUSALEM — Israel stepped up its 20-day-old offensive against the Islamic group Hamas on Thursday, shelling the headquarters of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency and other buildings in central Gaza. The strikes intensified condemnation of Israel, already heated because of the number of civilian deaths, and further strained fraught relations with the agency that provides aid Palestinian refugees.
The strike, which Israel said was in response to enemy fire, came even as Israeli officials indicated some progress in the Egyptian-brokered cease-fire talks. The Israeli foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, left for the United States late on Thursday, seeking an internationally guaranteed mechanism to stop arms smuggling into Gaza through Egypt.
But Israel tightened the military pressure on Hamas on Thursday, perhaps to push it closer to a cease-fire that would meet the Israeli aim of stopping Hamas rocket fire into Israel.
A senior Hamas leader, Said Siam, was killed along with his brother and his son when Israel bombed the house that they were in. Mr. Siam was the powerful interior minister of the Hamas-run government in Gaza and the overall chief of its security forces, a significant blow for Hamas days after Israel indicated that its military structure remained largely intact.
Hamas, meanwhile, fired off about 25 mortar shells and rockets, seriously wounding a 7-year-old Israeli boy in the city of Beersheba.
The strike against the United Nations headquarters wounded three people, destroying with three shells a warehouse full of hundreds of tons of food and medicine, said John Ging, director of United Nations operations in the area.
The incident, a week after some 40 people were reported killed when an Israeli mortar shell struck near a United Nations school, underscored the difficult relations between Israel and the United Nations that stretch back to Israel’s founding.
Secretary General Ban Ki-moon of the United Nations, in Jerusalem to discuss possible cease-fire terms, expressed “strong protest and outrage” and demanded an investigation.
But Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, on Thursday justified the attack on the refugee agency headquarters, saying that Hamas militants had fired at Israeli forces from within the compound.
“Surely,” said Mark Regev, a spokesman for Mr. Olmert, the refugee agency “understands that Israel cannot give immunity to terrorists because they are working from within, or adjacent to, a United Nations compound.”
United Nations officials vehemently denied the allegations. Mr. Ging, as he often has during the war, denounced Israel in extended televised interviews and questioned why Israeli liaison officers had never mentioned Hamas activity in the area, even though he said they were in constant contact.
“They should tell us if there are militants operating in our compound or in our area,” he said. “The fact that they don’t, we take that as indicative of the fact that there wasn’t.”
Over many decades, Israel has questioned the neutrality of many of the organization’s branches and complained of institutional bias. While both sides have been making efforts in recent years to work more constructively together, Thursday’s incident served to pry open the divide.
Adding to the tensions, the United Nations General Assembly convened an emergency session on the Israeli offensive in Gaza with its president, Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann of Nicaragua, accusing Israel of violating international law and using “disproportionate military force.”
Even though modern Israel came into existence months after a historic General Assembly voted in 1947 to partition Mandatory Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states, the country’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, famously wrote off the United Nations in the 1950s, using its Hebrew acronym to dismiss it as “UM, shmum.”
Describing some of the abiding challenges, Israeli officials note that the same 21 anti-Israel resolutions are passed by an automatic majority in the General Assembly every year. “That is before we’ve done anything,” one official said.
When it comes to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, Israel is in a special bind. On one hand Israeli officials say they recognize the vital role of the organization that provides food and other assistance to hundreds of thousands of Gaza’s poor.
On the other hand, the agency is often accused by critics in Israel and beyond of perpetuating the Palestinian refugee problem, being the only United Nations branch dedicated to a specific refugee population whose numbers, according to the agency’s criteria, constantly grow.
The attack on the compound underscored mutual suspicions and inherent antipathy on both sides.
Christopher Gunness, a spokesman for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, said that in a meeting with its representatives on Thursday, Israeli Army representatives “privately admitted” that the source of the militants’ fire was several hundred yards away from the compound.
“With every false allegation, the credibility of those accusing us is incrementally diminished,” Mr. Gunness said.
Citing agency representatives who were present during the attack, Mr. Gunness said three white phosphorus shells had hit the compound, causing fires that raged for hours, an allegation to which the Israeli military did not respond.
White phosphorus is a standard, legal weapon in armies, long used as a way to light up an area or to create a thick white smoke screen to obscure troop movements. While using it against civilians, or in an area where many civilians are likely to be affected, can be a violation of international law, Israel has denied using the substance improperly. On Wednesday, Hamas fired a phosphorus mortar shell into Israel, but no one was hurt.
In Israel, there is parallel outrage that the world is not vociferously protesting how Hamas uses civilians and civilian institutions in Gaza as a shield.
Yigal Palmor, an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman, went further, saying that most of the United Nations agency’s staff in Gaza were local Palestinians and alleging that a “large part are affiliated one way or another with Hamas.”
More than 1,000 Palestinians have been killed in the Israeli campaign so far, about 40 percent of them women and children, according to the Hamas-run Ministry of Health; Israel says only a quarter may be civilians. Three Israeli civilians have been killed in rocket attacks and 10 soldiers have died during the current campaign.
Witnesses said Thursday’s military push into Gaza City sent thousands of panicked residents fleeing from their homes.
Among other buildings hit in the center of the city was one occupied by several media organizations, witnesses said. Two Palestinian television camera operators were hospitalized.
As Israeli tanks took over the outlying neighborhood of Tel al-Hawa, a local hospital came under fire. In a statement on Thursday, the International Committee of the Red Cross said that Al Quds Hospital, run by the Palestine Red Crescent Society, suffered at least one direct hit and that the second floor of the hospital caught fire.
Jakob Kellenberger, the president of the Red Cross, who had just completed a three-day visit to the area, said, “It is unacceptable that wounded people receiving treatment in hospitals are put at risk.”
The Israeli military did not give precise details of its latest ground operations in Gaza City on Thursday, but a spokesman said that “fierce fighting” was under way “relatively deep inside Gaza.”
The military escalation may have been aimed at stepping up pressure on Hamas as Egyptian-brokered cease-fire talks entered a pivotal stage.
A senior Israeli Defense Ministry official, Amos Gilad, returned from talks in Cairo on Thursday to report to the Israeli leadership.
Though Israel had yet to relay its official response to the latest proposals, Egyptian television reported that Israel had agreed in principle to a truce plan, pending some clarifications. Hamas is also demanding some clarifications, the group’s officials have said.
Mr. Regev, the Olmert spokesman, said Thursday that Israel was “trying to find a durable solution.”
“Hopefully,” he said, “that durable solution seems closer than ever before.”
Confirming the air raid that killed Said Siam, the Israeli military described him in a statement as “a zealous extremist who liaised directly with Hamas’s military wing and the terror organization’s senior leadership in Gaza and abroad.” It said that his brother, Iyad, was his “right-hand man.”
According to witnesses and hospital officials, four members of a family in a building next door to the Siams were also killed in the Israeli raid.
Iran Leader Assails Israel
TEHRAN — President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran denounced the Israeli offensive in Gaza on Thursday, and he called on President-elect Barack Obama to take a different approach in American-Iranian relations.
“People in Gaza have won,” Mr. Ahmadinejad said in a news conference. “They fulfilled their duty in defending their dignity and honor.”
“This is the victory of humanity against barbarism,” he added.
Mr. Ahmadinejad also urged Mr. Obama to adopt a new policy toward Iran, saying that Iran did not appreciate what he characterized as the carrot-and-stick approach followed by the Bush administration. “I don’t consider the policy of carrot-and-stick respectful,” he said. “People welcome policies that are based on respect and friendship.”
Still deplorable, and reminds me of something I hadn't considered before. I'm no economist, but after a certain point doesn't generalized aid become actually detrimental to the creation of a functioning and stable economy? This isn't to say that the Palestinian people don't deserve aid or that the UN shouldn't be giving it to them, but are they receiving the right sort of aid? Iran claims to have sent a ship with meds and food and whatnot that was stopped in the Israeli blockade, but they also didn't bother to clear it with anyone before sending the ship. So yeah, just curious. And I wonder how much white phosphorous Hamas has access to.