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Defiant Hamas Hits Israel With Rockets

Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip sent a deadly barrage of missiles flying deep into Israel on Monday, demonstrating that Hamas still has firepower three days into Israel's punishing offensive against Gaza. Three Israelis were killed and two seriously wounded.

Israel, meanwhile, turned the force of its air assault toward Hamas field operatives in Gaza, sending warplanes to bomb their houses in a sweep meant to tear at the roots of the militant organization.

A tough-talking Israeli defense minister promised them a "war to the bitter end," as the three-day death toll in Israel's shock-and-awe offensive rose to 364, according to Gaza health officials.

The "bitter end" might involve Israeli ground troops following the air strikes on Hamas strongholds in Gaza, reports CBS News correspondent Mark Phillips from the Israel-Gaza border.

Israeli army mechanized units were forming up in the area around Gaza today, reports Phillips. The soldiers said they'd received no orders to advance - so far.

Israel's foreign minister Tzipi Livni defended her country's three-day attack, telling CBS News the missile strikes were necessary to bring peace to Israeli citizens.

Livni said her country "tried everything in order to avoid this military operation," but that Israel would not live under attack by Hamas. "We reached last week a point in which we said enough is enough. We tried a ceasefire with Hamas which they violated every day," she added.

The intensified rocket strikes by militants, which triggered the Israeli offensive, have revealed the expanding range of missiles in their stockpiles. Larger cities farther inside Israel are now vulnerable.

In a nighttime barrage, militants sent a missile crashing into a bus stop in the southern Israeli city of Ashdod, 23 miles from Gaza. A woman was killed and two others were wounded, one of them seriously. They were the first causalities in the city of 190,000 residents.

The leader of Israel's ultra-Orthodox Shas party, Eli Yishai, was visiting the city and was forced to dive beside a car when warning sirens sounded.

One person was killed and another was seriously wounded by another missile in the Negev desert community of Nahal Oz, closer to the Gaza border. Earlier Monday, a construction worker was killed by a missile hit in the city of Ashkelon. In all, four Israelis were killed since the weekend.

The White House, calling Monday for a lasting cease-fire in the Mideast, backed Israel's attacks and said the Islamic militant group ruling there had shown its "true colors as a terrorist organization."

"Right now the people of southern Israel are not able to live in peace," White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said in Crawford, Texas, where President George W. Bush is spending time at his ranch. "They have to live in bomb shelters a lot of the time. And that's unacceptable."

President-elect Barack Obama, vacationing in Hawaii, is monitoring the situation closely. Obama senior advisor David Axelrod told CBS News' Face The Nation on Sunday that the president-elect "recognizes the special relationship between the United States and Israel" and that he wants to help bring about peace.



Photos: Israel's Gaza Assault
The father of Palestinian Dena Balosha, 4, left, carries her body during her funeral in the Jebaliya refugee camp, in the northern Gaza Strip, Monday, Dec. 29, 2008. (AP)
Israel's overwhelming retaliation has rattled the Middle East and capitals around the world, triggering street protests and fiery speeches by key adversaries of Israel like Lebanon's Hezbollah. In the largest street rally yet, tens of thousands of Lebanese Hezbollah supporters stood under pouring rain in Beirut Monday to protest the assault.

In Cairo, where the Egyptian government had been key in brokering the now-collapsed ceasefire, people called for an end to cooperation with Israel, reports CBS News correspondent Sheila MacVicar.

Stone-throwing clashes also broke out in around half a dozen places in the West Bank as well as in several Arab-populated areas inside Israel.

On the outskirts of Jerusalem, dozens of Palestinian youths darted around burning barricades of tires and furniture to hurl rocks at Israeli police and soldiers. The Israeli forces responded with rubber bullets and tear gas, but it did not appear that anyone was injured.

The targets Israel chose to strike on Monday revealed an intention to chip away at Hamas' foundation. Israel carried out five separate strikes on the houses of field operatives, though there has been no confirmation that any of them were killed.

And in grainy surveillance video from an overhead drone released by Israel's military, several men are seen loading a pickup truck with what the military said were medium-range Grad rockets. Moments later, a large explosion from a missile strike envelops the image.

One of the strikes against field operatives targeted a house in Jebaliya refugee camp, killing seven people, but the Hamas activist was not there. Another hit the Jebaliya home of Abdel-Karim Jaber, a Hamas political figure, though not widely known. Jaber, a senior administrator at Gaza's Islamic University, was not at home at the time and it wasn't immediately clear if anyone was hurt in the strike.

In another air assault, an Islamic Jihad commander was killed as he was walking near his house.

As signs mounted that the Gaza offensive could widen into a ground war, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Israel's parliament he wants to strike a devastating blow against Hamas. However, later Monday he indicated a ground assault is not inevitable, issuing an ultimatum-sounding statement that he is giving Hamas a last chance to halt its rocket fire.

Short of reoccupying Gaza, however, it is unlikely that any amount of Israeli firepower will be able to completely snuff out the rocket barrages. Past operations have all failed to do so.

Since 2005, Hamas militants and their allies have launched more than 6,000 rockets at Israeli targets, reports MacVicar.

In preparation for a possible ground offensive, Israel has begun massing troops on the Gaza border and the Cabinet approved a call-up of 6,500 reserve soldiers, though no full combat formations have been mobilized. Areas around Gaza have been declared "closed military zones."

A final decision to call up reserves has yet to be made, and the Cabinet decision could be a pressure tactic. Military experts said Israel would need at least 10,000 soldiers for a full-scale invasion.

Meanwhile, Israel continued to strike from the skies with its fleet of warplanes, helicopters and pilotless drones. Airstrikes on more than 320 sites since midday Saturday have reduced dozens of buildings to rubble, overwhelmed hospitals with wounded and filled Gaza's deserted streets with smoke and fire. The military said naval vessels have also bombarded targets from the sea.

For the first time, Israel also hit one of a series of tunnels Hamas prepared along the border with Israel for use in attacks on invading ground forces, several Israeli TV networks reported. One of the tunnels was packed with explosives and several militants inside were killed, Channel 1 said.

On Monday, aircraft pulverized a house next to the home of Hamas Premier Ismail Haniyeh, a security compound and a five-story building at a university closely linked to the Islamic group - all symbols of Hamas strength in the coastal territory it has ruled since June 2007.

A day earlier, airstrikes took out dozens of smuggling tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border, cutting off a key lifeline that had supplied Hamas with weapons and Gaza with commercial goods. The bombardment sent hundreds of residents fleeing their homes.

Most of those killed in three days of airstrikes have been Hamas members, but the U.N. agency in charge of Palestinian refugees said at least 51 of the dead were civilians. A rise in civilian casualties could intensify international pressure on Israel to abort the offensive.

A Hamas police spokesman, Ehab Ghussen, said 180 members of the Hamas security forces were among the total number of dead.

Eight children under the age of 17 were killed in two separate strikes overnight, medics said Monday.

Still, militant rocket barrages continued. Sirens warning of incoming rockets sent Israelis scrambling for cover throughout the day Monday as more than 40 rockets and mortar rounds rained down.

In Gaza, some families left their apartments next to institutions linked to Hamas, fearing they could be targeted. Suad Abu Wadi, 42, was keeping her six children close to her on mattresses in her Gaza City living room. Her husband sat with them, chain-smoking. Abu Wadi said he had not said a word since seeing their neighbor carrying the body of his child, killed in an airstrike Saturday.

Gaza's nine hospitals were overwhelmed. Dr. Moaiya Hassanain, who keeps a record for the Gaza Health Ministry, said 364 Palestinians have died and more than 1,400 have been wounded. Some of the injured are now being taken to private clinics and even homes, he said.

Israeli security officials have warned that the militants' range now includes Beersheba, a major city 30 miles (50 kilometers) from Gaza. Resident Mazal Ivgi, 62, said she had prepared a bomb shelter. "In the meantime we don't really believe it's going to happen, but when the first boom comes people will be worried," she said.

A graphic displayed on Israeli television illustrated the growing rocket reach with overlapping, color-coded circles. Those in the closest range were advised to stay within a 15-second dash of a bomb shelter.

Israel opened one of Gaza's border crossings Monday to allow several ambulances and 62 aid trucks, including shipments of donated blood, to cross. Jordan was also sending doctors.

On Monday, a Palestinian stabbed and wounded four Israelis in a West Bank settlement before he was shot and wounded. It was not immediately clear if the attack was directly connected to the events in Gaza.

Meanwhile, crude prices rose above $40 a barrel as the death toll mounted in the oil-rich region.

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