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The Los Angeles Times

Gaza Residents Fear Israeli Tank Assault is Near

Ashraf Khalil and Rushdi abu Alouf

Israeli tanks are seen near Israel's border with the Gaza Strip, in southern Israel, Monday, Dec. 29, 2008. Israel widened its deadliest-ever air offensive against Gaza's Hamas rulers, targeting a house next to the Hamas premier's home early Monday after pounding smuggling tunnels and government buildings, sending more tanks toward the Gaza border and approving the call-up of thousands of reserve soldiers for a possible ground invasion. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

from Gaza City and Jerusalem -- Residents of the Gaza Strip today
braced for a long-feared Israeli tank incursion as warplanes pounded
the bottled-up coastal enclave for a third straight day.

The West Bank-based Palestinian Authority announced the suspension of
its peace talks with Israel in protest of the Israeli campaign against
the rival Hamas movement, which controls Gaza. But Israeli Defense
Minister Ehud Barak promised an "all-out war against Hamas and its

As a third day of multiple airstrikes pushed the Gazan death toll to
345, according to local medical sources, Barak addressed a stormy
session of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament.

"This operation will be widened and deepened as we see fit," said
Barak, who promised "war to the bitter end" designed to neutralize the
rocket fire from Gazan militants that had plagued southern Israeli

Several Arab parliamentarians were ejected for heckling and interrupting Barak's speech.

"There are those who are profiting from Palestinian blood in order to
get elected," said Mohammed Barakeh shortly before being thrown out of
the parliament session.

Among today's targets in Gaza were Hamas' Interior Ministry and the
homes of two senior military commanders in the movement. The ministry
had been evacuated days ago, and there were no casualties. But the
strike on the home of Maher Zaqout, a commander with Hamas' Izzidin
al-Qassam Brigades, killed seven civilians, Palestinian officials said.
Zaqout was not home at the time.

Hamas and other militant factions launched an estimated 50 rockets into
southern Israel, killing one man and wounding 14 others in a single
strike on the Mediterranean coastal town of Ashkelon. The victim was an
Israeli Arab, 27-year-old construction worker Hani al Mahdi.

Israel also declared the area around Gaza a closed military zone,
ordering out journalists who were observing the buildup of troops and
tanks outside of the enclave. The expulsion of the journalists only
deepened fears among Gazans that a bloody tank assault was imminent.

Abu Alouf is a special correspondent.

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