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Hamas: Over 170 killed as Israel strikes police compounds

Just days after the cabinet gave the military final approval to counter ongoing Palestinian rocket fire against communities in the western Negev, the IDF launched a massive operation, striking Hamas installations throughout the Gaza Strip on Saturday.

Smoke rises from Israeli missile strikes in the northern Gaza Strip as seen from the Israeli community of Netiv Hasar.

The wide-scale offensive on Hamas installations in the Gaza Strip was codenamed 'Operation Cast Lead,' after a Hanukkah poem by H.N. Bialik referring to a "dreidel cast from solid lead."

A Hamas spokesperson said that at least 170 people were killed in the attacks. Gaza health official Moawiya Hassanain said earlier that over 120 people were killed, and at least 200 injured. The Jerusalem Post could not confirm either report.

According to witnesses, among the dead was Hamas police chief Maj.-Gen. Tawfik Jaber.

Despite the massive casualties, Hamas remained defiant, vowing revenge and calling on all other Palestinian factions to join in the fight.

The operation had two elements of surprise:

1. Media reports emanating from official sources in Jerusalem Friday, Dec. 25, conveyed the impression that the major military operation approved by the Israeli cabinet had been called off for the time being, at least until the cabinet reconvened for a reassessment.

2. Egypt misled Hamas, reporting reliable information that Israeli would not strike on Saturday, its Sabbath Day.

Some Hamas commanders and operatives felt safe enough to come out of their hideouts in the tunnels and bunkers under Gaza – estimated at 80 km long - and hold a graduation ceremony on the parade ground at their command headquarters in Gaza City. The Israeli air strike there accounted for the largest number of casualties.  

A big question hangs over whether Iran will send Hizballah to open a second front from Lebanon in response to the Israeli air operation in Gaza. According to DEBKAfile's intelligence sources, the Hizballah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, paid a secret visit to Tehran in the third week of November to clarify this very question.  Debkafile

Russia is bracing for further unrest as the rouble on Friday slid to a new low against the euro after a succession of moves to devalue its currency.

A cut on Friday extended six weeks of devaluations by Russia’s central bank designed to offset the impact of the global economic crisis and falling oil prices as the country’s main export commodity approached its lowest level since 2004.

Mikhail Gorbachev, the former Soviet leader, warned Russia faced “unprecedentedly difficult and dangerous circumstances” and could be “heading into a black hole”. “It is not clear what the fate of our rouble will be or if society has sufficient financial and moral resources,” he said.

After the depreciation, which was the eighth so far this month, the rouble declined as much as 1.2 per cent to Rbs29.06 versus the dollar on Friday, a four year low. The rouble has now lost nearly 20 per cent of its value against the US currency since August.

Analysts at Barclays Capital said the best case scenario would see Russian policymakers, facing the mounting evidence of a recession, allowing a one-off depreciation of 10 per cent or more.  FT

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