Israelis Invade Gaza Camp After 10 Soldiers Wounded in Attack

Published May 14, 2003

| Associated Press

Israeli soldiers killed three Palestinian policemen in Gaza and a suspected militant in the West Bank on Wednesday, and a helicopter fired a missile at a crowd in a refugee camp, wounding 30 people.

The Israeli operations in Gaza came after a mortar attack wounded 10 soldiers and a homemade rocket fired from Gaza hit a nearby town Tuesday, slightly injuring three Israelis. The violence continued despite efforts by the United States and European Union to promote a Mideast peace plan.

Palestinian rescue workers said Israeli soldiers opened fire on a Palestinian police post near the Jewish settlement of Netzarim in central Gaza on Wednesday, killing three and wounding two. The Palestinians said the gunfire was unprovoked.

The army said the troops, stationed in the area following a "specific alert," identified four armed men in civilian clothes heading toward Netzarim in the early morning hours. The troops opened fire and reported hitting the men.

Earlier, at the Khan Younis refugee camp in southern Gaza, Palestinian witnesses said an Israeli helicopter fired a missile at a crowd of people as tanks and bulldozers operated nearby, tearing down buildings. Khan Younis hospital spokesman Dr. Haidar al-Qedra said 30 people were wounded.

The Israeli commander, who gave his name only as Col. Pinhas, said the helicopter fired at Palestinians shooting rifles and anti-tank grenades at Israeli forces.

Tanks and bulldozers destroyed five houses and damaged four others, Palestinian security officials said. About 60 people were left homeless, said the governor, Hosni Zoaroub. Pinhas, who refused to give his last name, said the houses were used "time and again for terrorist activity, for lookouts and for firing anti-tank weapons."

The Israelis withdrew at 1:30 a.m. Wednesday after a three-hour operation. Israeli military sources said on condition of anonymity that the purpose of the incursion was to stop the firing of rockets and mortars.

Early Wednesday, two rockets were fired at the Israeli town of Sderot near the Gaza Strip, the army said. There were no injuries.

In a statement faxed to The Associated Press office in Gaza, the Qassam Brigade wing of the militant group Hamas claimed responsibility for the attacks Tuesday and Wednesday.

Despite the Israeli incursion, Hamas spokesman Abdel Aziz Rantisi remained defiant.

"Hamas will not allow anyone to obstruct its legitimate resistance against (Israeli) occupation" of Palestinian areas, he said.

Meanwhile, Israeli police spokesman Gil Kleiman said Wednesday that Sheik Raed Salah -- the leader of the Arab Israeli Islamic Movement's radical branch, who was arrested Tuesday along with 14 other group members on charges of funneling money to Hamas -- would be released on his own recognizance to attend his father's funeral.

Explosions and gunfire were heard north of Gaza City on Wednesday in the area of Beit Lahiya, witnesses said. The military said no operation was in progress, but soldiers might have fired warning shots.

In the West Bank on Wednesday, Israeli troops shot and killed a suspected militant in the city of Nablus, the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade said in a statement. The group identified the militant as Taiser Abu Shohab, 22, and said he was shot in the chest. Palestinian doctors said 10 Palestinians were injured, one critically, when Israeli troops fired on stone-throwing youths in Nablus, Palestinian doctors said.

The army said gunmen fired on the troops and the soldiers shot back during an operation in Nablus, injuring a gunman.

In the West Bank city of Jenin on Wednesday, witnesses said Israeli helicopters surrounded a building and forced three people, including Al Aqsa militant Khalil Mosbah, 25, to surrender. The army did not immediately comment.

The Israeli army also said it arrested 12 wanted Palestinians in the West Bank on Wednesday. Palestinian security sources confirmed the arrests of at least five Palestinians.

The renewed violence contrasted with international efforts to persuade the Israelis and Palestinians to stop 31 months of violence and start moving along the path outlined by the "road map" peace plan, backed by the "Quartet" of mediators -- the United States, European Union, Russia and United Nations.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas, were to discuss the plan Saturday night in Jerusalem, a Palestinian official said Wednesday on condition of anonymity. The meeting will mark the first top-level Israeli-Palestinian talks between the two sides in nearly three years.

Earlier, Israeli officials said the meeting would take place Friday.

Palestinians have accepted the road map, a three-stage blueprint that begins with an end to violence, Israeli army pullbacks and a halt in settlement building in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It then allows for a Palestinian state with provisional borders -- perhaps by the end of the year -- and hopes to resolve tough issues like borders, Palestinian refugees and Jerusalem in the last stage.

The road map speaks of parallel action by both sides, but Israel insists a Palestinian crackdown on militants come first.

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