PLANES WIPE OUT MOSQUE ARSENAL
By ANDY SOLTIS
January 1, 2009 --
Israel raised the ante in its five-day Gaza Strip offensive by blasting a mosque that it said had been turned into a bomb warehouse and terrorist hideout.
Several people were hurt in the airstrike, which left only the Gaza City mosque's minaret standing, Palestinian officials said.
The escalation in the fighting came as Hamas lobbed a barrage of 60 more rockets deep into Israel and Israel rejected, at least temporarily, a French-led appeal for a two-day truce.
The head of Israel's Shin Bet intelligence agency, Yuval Diskin, said Israel had already blasted 130 rocket launchers - and the success of the airstrikes had forced Hamas to turn dozens of mosques into arsenals and command centers.
"Many Hamas officials are hiding in mosques throughout Gaza, out of the assumption that Israel will avoid attacking Muslim houses of worship," he told the Israeli Cabinet yesterday.
Other Hamas chiefs have "disguised themselves as doctors and nurses" in hospitals, he said.
The military said terrorist cells had been firing rockets from the mosque grounds as early as yesterday morning. The airstrike touched off explosions from stockpiled munitions inside the mosque.
Nevertheless, Hamas continued to send powerful rockets nearly 30 miles inside Israel.
In a new barrage yesterday, a Hamas rocket landed inside a classroom of an evacuated schoolhouse in Beersheba, a city of more than 200,000 people.
Four Israelis were slightly wounded in other rocket attacks on the towns of Ashdon and Ashkelon.
Meanwhile, Gaza officials put the death toll at more than 390 since the Israeli offensive began Saturday, including 200 uniformed Hamas security officers.
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