GAZA, (Reuters) – An Israeli air strike destroyed the office of Palestinian Foreign Minister Mahmoud al-Zahar on Thursday in an attack that signalled Israel would pursue its Gaza offensive while fighting along a second front in Lebanon.
Palestinian security officials said no one was hurt in the night-time raid on the Foreign Ministry building in Gaza City, as Israel pressed an offensive to free a captured soldier and stop Palestinian militants firing rockets into the Jewish state.
A separate air strike, near Deir el-Balah in the central Gaza Strip, killed an Islamic Jihad militant and wounded another gunman, the officials said.
Israel killed at least 24 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, including nine members of one family in an air strike that destroyed a house where the army said senior commanders from the armed wing of the governing Hamas group were meeting.
“This is state terrorism against the Palestinian people,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Taher al-Nunu said about the attack on the ministry building.
Captain Noa Meir, an Israeli army spokeswoman, described Zahar as “one of the most extremist leaders of Hamas” but said the attack had not been aimed at killing him.
Hamas, an Islamist militant organisation that came to power in the Palestinian territories after a January election, is dedicated to Israel’s destruction.
Witnesses said the attack set off a fire in the Foreign Ministry and destroyed Zahar’s office. He was not in the building at the time.
The air strike was part of an offensive Israel launched in Gaza two weeks ago after militants including Hamas gunmen abducted a soldier in a raid into the Jewish state.
Israel pulled troops and Jewish settlers out of Gaza last year after 38 years of occupation.
Wednesday’s death toll included at least 14 civilians.
It was the highest number of Palestinians killed in a single day in almost two years.
The Gaza offensive has killed around 80 Palestinians including dozens of civilians, piling pressure on the Hamas government, already reeling from a Western aid embargo. One Israeli soldier has been killed.
Israel also went on the offensive in Lebanon after Hezbollah guerrillas captured two soldiers and killed eight other troops in cross-border attacks on Wednesday.
Israeli aircraft attacked Beirut airport and killed 22 civilians in strikes on south Lebanon on Thursday, widening its reprisals. Hezbollah fired rockets at a number of northern Israeli towns, killing one civilian in the city of Nahariya.