Israeli blast kills leader, as Mideast unrest rises

More deaths as Gaza war in fourth week, with regional instability a growing concern.

In its fourth week, the Gaza war has left more than 1800 Palestinians and more than 60 Israelis dead. Photo / AP
In its fourth week, the Gaza war has left more than 1800 Palestinians and more than 60 Israelis dead. Photo / AP

An Israeli airstrike killed a militant leader in the Gaza Strip last night, as other flashpoints in the wider Middle East flared up in worrying signs of regional instability.

As Britain evacuated citizens from fighting in Libya, Isis drove out Kurdish security forces to further expand the Iraqi territories under the militant group's control and Syrian fighting spilled into Lebanon.

In Gaza, the Islamic Jihad group - a close ally of Gaza's militant Palestinian Hamas rulers - said its commander in the northern part of the strip, Daniel Mansour, died when the Israeli strike hit his home, hours before a brief ceasefire was due to come into effect.

Israel has kept up its aerial, offshore and artillery bombardments of the strip. The Gaza war, now in its fourth week, has left more than 1800 Palestinians and more than 60 Israelis dead. Since the fighting erupted, Hamas has fired more than 3000 rockets into Israel. UN officials say more than three-quarters of the dead in the war have been civilians, including the 10 people killed late on Sunday at a UN school that has been converted into a shelter in the southern town of Rafah.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon called the attack a "moral outrage and a criminal act" and demanded a quick investigation, while the US State Department condemned the strike in unusually strong language.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has come under international pressure to halt the fighting because of the heavy civilian death toll. UN shelters in Gaza have been struck by fire seven times in the latest Israeli-Hamas round of fighting. Israel says Hamas is responsible for the heavy death toll because it has been using civilians as "human shields".

In Israel, the family of the soldier feared to have been captured by Hamas held a funeral for him yesterday, less than 24 hours after learning from his commanders that he had in fact been killed in action.

Thousands of mourners and fellow soldiers packed the streets of the small Israeli town of Kfar Saba, near Tel Aviv, as the coffin of Lieutenant Hadar Goldin, 23, was laid to rest in a local cemetery. "I thought we'll be together forever," said Goldin's fiancee, Edna Sarousi, who addressed the mourners. "I never thought you'll leave me on my own so soon."

Even as Israel's campaign has lessened slightly - it has been drawing down its ground operation since the weekend - other countries in the wider region experienced worrying security developments.

More than 100 mainly British citizens were on a Royal Navy support ship bound for Malta as fighting between different "revolutionary" factions engulfed the Libyan capital, Tripoli. HMS Enterprise, a survey ship, was diverted from routine operations in the Mediterranean and sent to Tripoli after the British Embassy decided to close down operations. Other embassies, including that of the United States, had already closed down and pulled out staff.

Yesterday, 22 more people were killed around Tripoli airport, as competing militias fight for control in both the east and west of the country. Above Tripoli itself, a huge pall of smoke rose from the fires still raging at the city's main oil storage site, which was hit by a missile in the fighting a week ago.

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The airport is held by Zintan Brigade, which is based in the town of the same name, and is anti-Islamist. It is being attacked by the Misurata Brigade, which supports the Muslim Brotherhood and other "soft Islamist" political factions. The Zintan Brigade is in unofficial alliance with an anti-Islamist group within the army, led by Khalifa Haftar, a former Gaddafi-era officer who spent years in exile in the United States. It has attacked the bases of extremist Islamist factions who are powerful in Benghazi and neighbouring cities in the east, but it has been condemned by senior government officials for operating without orders.

Meanwhile, militants with Isis (Islamic State) seized two small towns in northern Iraq after driving out Kurdish security forces.

The fresh gains by the Sunni militants have forced thousands of residents to flee north from the religiously mixed towns of Zumar and Sinjar, towards the self-ruled Kurdish region.

The fighting was widely reported to have spread to the nearby Mosul Dam, however Jabar Yawer, the spokesman for the Peshmerga, the Kurdish military in semi-autonomous northern Iraq, said Kurdish forces were still in control of the dam.

A resident in Sinjar said the militants blew up a small revered Shia site and two Yazidi shrines. Yazidis are a Kurdish-speaking sect and religious minority. A resident in Zumar said the Isis fighters took over at least two small oilfields.

In neighbouring Syria, rebels killed 10 Lebanese troops and probably captured 13 more in a raid on Arsal, a Lebanese border town, the most serious spillover of violence yet into the tiny country from its neighbour's civil war. Yesterday at least 44 people were killed by government shelling of a market in the rebel-held town of Kafr Batna and the nearby town of Douma, both near Damascus, activists said.

- additional reporting AP

- Daily Telegraph UK

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