Blast rocks Jerusalem ahead of UN chief's visit

Hamas top commander warns Israel over ground operation

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 November, 2012, 8:57pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 November, 2012, 8:57pm

An explosion shook Jerusalem on Tuesday shortly after air raid sirens wailed across the city as UN chief Ban Ki-moon arrived for top-level talks over a truce to end the Gaza crisis, correspondents said.

A loud boom could be heard in the southern part of the city shortly after the air raid sirens sounded, with police confirming that they also heard it and were searches were under way.

Hamas’s top military commander warned in a rare audio message broadcast on Tuesday that Israel will “pay a heavy price” if it launches a ground operation in the Gaza Strip.

“The enemy will pay a heavy price if it thinks of entering Gaza,” Mohammed Deif said in the audio message carried by Hamas television station Al-Aqsa.

“A ground war is the best hope of freeing the prisoners,” Deif said, implying that militants would seek to capture Israeli soldiers in order to bring about a prisoner swap deal as they did last year with Israel’s Gilad Shalit.

Deif is the head of Hamas’s armed wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, a position he assumed in 2002, after the previous commander Saleh Shehadeh was killed in a massive Israeli air strike.

In 2006, Deif was badly wounded in another Israeli air strike.

He subsequently went underground, leaving most field duties to Ahmed Jaabari, his second-in-command, who was killed in an Israeli targeted killing on November 14 which sparked the current cycle of violence.