The thought of his six young nieces keeps Yusuf Dabus awake. The girls, ages 3-7, lived in the Gaza Strip and were seeking shelter near the Jabaliya mosque (Hamas is known to stores rockets in Mosques) over the weekend as Israeli planes dropped bombs on Hamas targets.
Israel killed a senior Hamas leader in an air attack on his home on Thursday, 1/01/09. Nizar Rayyan, a cleric widely regarded as one of Hamas's most hardline political leaders, had called for renewed suicide bombings inside Israel. Medical officials, confirming his death, said two of his four wives and seven of his children were killed in the bombing, in Jabaliya refugee camp. Hundreds of supporters scrambling over the concrete rubble vowed revenge as the mangled bodies, covered in blood and cement dust, were extracted from the wreckage.
"The blood of Sheikh Nizar Rayyan and the blood of other martyrs will never be wasted and the enemy will pay a heavy price for the crimes it has committed," Hamas official Ayman Taha said.
Black-bearded Rayyan, 49, was a preacher at Jabaliya's "mosque of martyrs" who mentored suicide bombers. With a cartridge belt around his stocky frame, he would sometimes patrol the streets of Gaza with Hamas fighters. Hamas Radio said he had ignored advice to leave his house as other Hamas leaders have done in anticipation of assassination attempts by Israeli forces, who confirmed the air strike. Israeli war planes had also bombed the Jabaliya mosque, Israeli security officials said it was a meeting place and command post for Hamas militants and the large number of secondary explosions after the strike indicated that rockets, missiles and other weapons had been stored there. Witnesses in Gaza said it was completely destroyed.
Although generally a peaceful, if intense, protest, tensions flared when Benyamin Berke walked through the crowd draped in an Israeli flag. "I wouldn't call it provoking unless being Jewish in this area is a provocation," Berke said. "I wanted to let the people of Tampa know that there's people who support Israel."