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2009 Begins With Bombs, Rockets in Gaza, Over 400 Palestinians Killed

The new year began with the sixth day of Israeli air strikes in Gaza and with Hamas rockets hitting southern Israel. Gaza officials put the Palestinian death toll at around 400.

The new year began in Gaza with the sound of explosions.

Israeli war planes again struck at targets that included government ministries and the local parliament in Gaza City, a police center in Rafah in southern Gaza and underground tunnels on the Gaza-Egypt border that are routinely used to smuggle in food, cigarettes and weapons.

Hamas security sources say political leader Nizar Rayyan was killed during the strikes along with members of his family. He was an outspoken advocate of renewing suicide bombings against the Jewish state.

It's now the sixth straight day of bombings and on the line from Gaza City, Palestinian journalist Mohammed Dawwas tells VOA, the Israeli bombing went on through the night.

DAWWAS:"We couldn't go to sleep since that time. It's deteriorating. For me, it was one of the worst nights. Today was supposed to be the beginning of the year, New Year's day.
PACE:"Is there bombing going on right now?"
DAWWAS:"Well, there was. They're shelling from the sea right now. I've been seeing with my own eyes because I live in a high building."

Militants again fired rockets into Israel, one hitting a multi-story residential building in the city of Ashdod, more than 30 kilometers north of the Gaza Strip.

Israel says it is targeting militants associated with the rocket attacks and the infrastructure of Hamas, the Islamic faction that controls the Gaza Strip.

Israel says it had no choice but to strike at Hamas after talks on extending a six-month truce broke down and militants stepped up rocket and mortar attacks against southern Israel.

Gaza is a densely populated strip of land and U.N. aid officials report that among those killed in the Israeli bombings are at least 60 Palestinian civilians, including more than 30 children.

Mohammed Dawwas says the bombings have taken a toll on the people of Gaza.

"I have been out [in Gaza City]," Dawwas said. "I just got back a few hours ago. The situation is so bad. You do not see people - it is like empty streets. The only people you see are queing [lining up] to buy a bag of bread or something like this. And it will take you three hours just to buy a sack of bread. Otherwise the Gaza streets are completely empty. It is like a ghost town."

Israel is allowing convoys with humanitarian supplies into Gaza and is allowing some Palestinians into Israel for medical treatment.

Israel has rejected international pressure for a temporary cease-fire, saying the time is not right. Israel has amassed troops, tanks and armored personnel carriers around Gaza for a possible ground offensive. Officials say the strikes will not stop until the Palestinian militants halt rocket attacks against Israel.