Israeli leader warns Hamas of 'iron fist'

Israeli leader warns Hamas of 'iron fist'
Updated: 2009-01-13 07:32
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GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert stood within Hamas rocket range Monday and warned Islamic militants that they face an "iron fist" unless they agree to Israeli terms for an end to war in the Gaza Strip. Hamas showed no signs of wavering, however, with its leader, Ismail Haniyeh, saying the militants were "closer to victory."
Despite the tough words, Egypt said it was making slow progress in brokering a truce, and special Mideast envoy Tony Blair said elements were in place for a cease-fire.

An Israeli reservist poses with his weapons as others stand near Israel's border with Gaza, in southern Israel, Monday, Jan. 12, 2009. [Agencies]
As Olmert spoke in the Israeli city of Ashkelon, Israeli tanks, gunboats and warplanes hammered suspected hiding places of Hamas operatives who control the poor, densely populated territory just across the border.
After nightfall, flares and explosions lit up the sky over Gaza and heavy gunfire was heard in parts of the coastal territory of 1.4 million people.
Hamas' fighters battled Israeli troops on the outskirts of Gaza City and launched 15 rockets at southern Israel. The group's prime minister insisted on an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and the opening of blockaded border crossings as part of any truce.
"As we are in the middle of this crisis, we tell our people we, God willing, are closer to victory. All the blood that is being shed will not go to waste," Haniyeh said on Hamas' Al Aqsa television. But he said the group was also pursuing a diplomatic track to end the conflict that "will not close."

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Haniyeh sat a desk in a room with a Palestinian flag and a Quran in the background. His location was unclear; Israeli airstrikes have targeted militant chiefs, and most are in hiding. The fighting began Dec. 27 and has killed more than 900 Palestinians, about half of them civilians, according to Palestinian medical officials. Thirteen Israelis, including 10 soldiers, have been killed.
As diplomats struggled for traction in truce efforts, Olmert said Israel would only end military operations if Hamas stops rocketing Israel, as it has done for years, and is unable to rearm after combat subsides.
"Anything else will be met with the Israeli people's iron fist," Olmert said. "We will continue to strike with full strength, with full force until there is quiet and rearmament stops."
A few hours before Olmert spoke, a rocket hit a house in Ashkelon but caused no casualties. Olmert addressed regional mayors in the relative safety of the basement of a public building during his two-hour visit; he has toured other towns hit by rockets since the war began.
Later, he tempered his tough talk, saying: "I really hope that the efforts we are making with the Egyptians these days will ripen to a result that will enable us to end the fighting."

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From the other side of Israeli bombs and bullets:


GAZA CITY — When the phone rang once again, it was Dr. Hassan Al-Attal's turn to go save the lives of another Gazan family.
But in just minutes, it was Attal who pleaded for help after being showered with Israeli bullets.
"We were heading to help three bleeding children whose house was hit by an Israeli shell," Attal, an emergency doctor in Gaza City, told
"But once we arrived to the house, our ambulance came under a hail of fire," he recalled.
"We fell to the ground bleeding, and instead of helping the injured children we were crying for help ourselves," he said from a hospital bed.
The Israeli killing machine has not spared doctors and medics who struggle to save the lives of helpless victims.
More than 12 doctors and rescue workers have been killed so far in the 19-day Israeli onslaught against the densely-populated coastal enclave.
In addition, dozens of hospitals and health clinics have been destroyed in Israeli air and artillery shelling.
Doctor Ahmed Al-Assafi recalls how his colleague Ihab Al-Madhoon was killed by Israeli shells while trying to rush a severely-injured child to the hospital.

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