NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Friday, January 16th 2009
BY MATTHEW KALMAN
DAILY NEWS WRITER
JERUSALEM - Israel notched a huge psychological victory Thursday by assassinating the Hamas interior minister - the most senior terror leader to die since the Gaza blitz began three weeks ago.
Israel also shelled the main United Nations compound in Gaza, setting fire to its fuel depot and sparking an inferno that sent huge plumes of black smoke billowing over Gaza City and destroyed millions of dollars of humanitarian supplies.
About 700 Palestinian civilians were taking shelter in the building, but there were only a handful of injuries.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who was in Jerusalem to meet with Israeli officials, called it an "outrage," and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown called the strike "indefensible."
Ban later told reporters that Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak had apologized, calling the attack on the UN "a grave mistake" that was being taken "very seriously."
Even as truce talks were progressing in Cairo, Hamas vowed revenge for the death of Hamas No. 3 Said Siam, killed in a missile strike on his brother's house.
"The blood of Said Siam will be a curse on the Zionist entity," Hamas official Mohammed Nazzal told Al Jazeera.
Siam, a former science professor, became one of Hamas' most hard-line ideologues.
He was the commander of the feared Hamas Executive Force, the black-uniformed paramilitary service that led the Hamas coup against Fatah in June 2007, killing 400 Palestinians in the rival faction.
Israeli officials were confident Siam's death would be a stunning blow to Hamas morale. That's because the strike was based on precise intelligence of Siam's movements, showing that the highest levels of Hamas have been penetrated by Israeli intelligence.
In Cairo, Hamas appeared more isolated than ever after Syrian leader Bashar Assad - its protector and host in Damascus - threw his weight behind a ceasefire plan that would include ending Hamas rocket fire into Israel.