Hamas dares Israel to attack

Fares Akram, Jodi Rudoren and Alan Cowell / New York Times News Service /

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — The top leader of Hamas dared Israel on Monday to launch a ground invasion of Gaza and dismissed diplomatic efforts to broker a cease-fire in the six-day-old conflict, as the Israeli military conducted a new wave of deadly airstrikes on the besieged Palestinian enclave, including a second hit on a 15-story building that houses media outlets.

A volley of rockets fired from Gaza into southern Israel included one that hit a vacant school.

Speaking at a news conference in Cairo, where the diplomatic efforts were under way, the Hamas leader, Khaled Meshal, suggested that the Israeli infantry mobilization on the border with Gaza was a bluff on the part of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel.

“If you wanted to launch it, you would have done it,” Meshal told reporters. He accused Israel of using the invasion threat as an attempt to “dictate its own terms and force us into silence.”

Rejecting Israel’s contention that Hamas had precipitated the conflict, Meshal said the burden was on the Israelis. “The demand of the people of Gaza is meeting their legitimate demands — for Israel to be restrained from its aggression, assassinations and invasions and for the siege over Gaza to be ended,” he said.

Netanyahu met with top ministers Monday evening and Israeli media said they discussed the next steps in the Gaza conflict, including the possibility of a truce. Israeli officials declined to comment.

The Hamas Health Ministry said Monday evening that a total of 107 people had been killed since Wednesday morning, when Israeli airstrikes began, following months of Palestinian rocket fire into Israel. A spokeswoman for the Israeli military said she believed that a majority of these were militants.

Three people have been killed so far in Israel, all civilians, in a rocket strike that hit an apartment house in the southern Israeli town of Kiryat Malachi on Thursday morning. The Israelis have said at least 79 Israelis have been wounded and that Gaza rockets have reached as far north as Tel Aviv.

Israel says its onslaught is designed to stop Hamas from launching the rockets, but, after an apparent lull overnight, more missiles hurtled toward targets in Israel, some of them intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome defense system.