Tuesday, January 6th
BY MATTHEW KALMAN in Jerusalem, ERICA SILVERMAN in Ramallah, West Bank and HELEN KENNEDY in New York
DAILY NEWS WRITERS
President Shimon Peres visits a wounded Israeli soldier on Monday.
Hamas leaders emerged from their bunkers on Monday to offer only defiance and new threats as Israeli helicopters and tanks killed a growing number of Palestinian civilians.
"The enemy is flustered, the enemy has failed. It cannot hurt us. All it does is kill innocent women and children," Hamas paramilitary wing spokesman Abu Obaida said proudly.
On Day 10 of the Gaza war, the second full day of ground operations, Israeli troops and tanks surrounding Gaza City began to squeeze.
They broadcast radio warnings telling people to move toward the center of the city for their safety.
But there was no safety.
As F-16s swooped overhead firing missiles into buildings, the city's 400,000 residents were suffering - or dying.
At least 14 children were killed, raising the Palestinian death toll from the 10-day onslaught to 540 - about a third of them civilians, the UN said.
Eleven members of Salah Samouni's family, including five small children, died when their apartment building suddenly became rubble.
Thirteen members of another family, including three toddlers, were killed by shells in the mourning tent where they were watching over the body of a paramedic killed in northern Gaza.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said the offensive would stop only when Israel had won "peace and tranquility" for citizens living in range of Hamas rockets.
"Hamas has sustained a very heavy blow from us, but we have yet to achieve our objective and therefore the operation continues," he said.
The Israeli Army said "many dozens" of militants have been killed or wounded.
A senior Hamas political leader outside Gaza told the Daily News he thought Hamas would agree to a ceasefire if the border crossings were reopened.
"The government in Gaza is completely paralyzed," he said.
In Gaza City, Israeli commandos went block by block, seeking out houses marked by intelligence as shielding Hamas missiles and explosives.
Under one house, soldiers chased Hamas fighters who fled into a warren of underground tunnels.
Israel said its forces sustained five wounded, bringing the Israeli military casualties to 53 wounded and one dead.
Despite the onslaught, more than 20 Hamas rockets were launched at Israel, hitting towns up to 25 miles away.
Mahmoud al-Zahar, the most powerful Hamas figure inside Gaza, broke his 10-day silence, reading a statement on video from an underground bunker.
Israel, he said, "has hardly touched the Hamas forces. Victory is coming, God willing."
At the overwhelmed Palestinian hospitals, where generator fuel is about to run out, victory was low on the list of concerns.
"Whoever comes with a head, we check his pulse. If there's no pulse, he's straight to the morgue. If there's no head, well, goodbye," said Raed Arini, an official at chaotic Shifa Hospital.
The carnage had some Palestinians wishing for Hamas' demise.
"I am counting the days until Hamas is finished, it will be a holiday," said Hashem, a Gaza pharmacist holed up in an apartment with his mother and two sisters.
Others were becoming radicalized.
"I used to criticize the rockets," said Abu Othman, waiting for bread to feed his seven children.
"Now I want to see buses blown up in Israel."