Dozens of Israeli Tanks Roll Into Gaza Refugee Camp

Israeli troops backed by attack helicopters and tanks searched for smuggling tunnels in this refugee camp on the Egyptian border Tuesday, the second large-scale raid here in less than a week.

Army bulldozers razed four homes, while troops took over several buildings and snipers set up positions on three rooftops, said resident Mohammed Zoarub, 35, and other witnesses. Six Palestinians were lightly hurt, hospital officials said.

At the start of the pre-dawn raid, helicopters fired toward the camp to clear the way for two columns of armored vehicles driving into Rafah, the witnesses said.

Also Wednesday, Israeli opposition leader Shimon Peres (searchcame out in support of a symbolic Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement concluded over the weekend, after two years of talks. The deal could serve as a basis for future talks, Peres said.

The 50-page document, complete with a map of a future Palestine, gives the Palestinians a state in virtually all of the lands Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war. It divides Jerusalem but keeps most war refugees out of Israel.

It was put together by prominent Israelis and Palestinians, including former peace negotiators, Cabinet ministers and legislators, and is to be signed next month.

Palestinian participants said Yasser Arafat (searchhad been briefed on the agreement, though he had not formally commented.

In Malaysia, the Palestinian envoy to an Organization of the Islamic Conference (searchsummit dismissed the agreement, saying the Palestinian Authority would not be involved in an unofficial peace track that didn't include the Israeli government.

"I don't think there will be any agreement, this kind of side negotiation (is done) in order to have more support from the Israelis who care about peace," Farouk Kaddoumi told reporters on the sidelines of meetings. "This is from the opposition, not from the government of Israel."

Israeli government officials derided the deal as an irresponsible end run.

In other developments Tuesday, a Palestinian man was shot and killed by Israeli forces near the West Bank settlement of Negahot, the military said. Israel Radio said the man was unarmed. Last month, a Palestinian gunman broke into the settlement, killing an Israeli man and baby girl.

Tuesday's raid of Rafah began at about 4 a.m. with armored vehicles entering the Salam neighborhood on the border with Egypt from two directions to search for smuggling tunnels.

Three tunnels were blown up in a previous three-day operation that ended Sunday, but army officials said they were looking for 10 more tunnels.

In the first raid that began Friday, eight Palestinians, including two children, were killed by Israeli gunfire in fierce exchanges. The U.N. Relief and Works Agency said 114 homes were destroyed in that operation, leaving 1,240 people homeless. The army said about 30 buildings were knocked down, and three tunnels were found and blown up.

The military claims Palestinians are trying to smuggle in weapons that could change the face of the three year conflict, including anti-aircraft missiles and rockets that could reach Israeli cities from Gaza.

Palestinians denounced the first raid as an Israeli war against the Palestinian people.

Meanwhile, former Israeli peace negotiators and Palestinian officials said Monday their new document could be the basis of eventual official negotiations.

Under the unofficial deal, Palestinians would get a state in 98 percent of the West Bank and all of Gaza. They would be given some land in Israel's Negev Desert to compensate for the 2 percent that Israel would keep. Jerusalem would be divided and most Palestinian refugees would be kept out of Israel, according to negotiators.

Ex-Israeli Cabinet minister Yossi Beilin, an architect of Israeli-Palestinian interim accords in the 1990s and a leader of the new initiative, defended the blueprint.

"The Israelis are sick and tired of the current situation," he said Monday. "They don't want to be killed, they don't want to kill. Most of the Israelis want to live and we are giving them the hope to live."

Reflecting the views of Israel's hardline government, Vice Premier Ehud Olmert denounced the Israeli negotiators as an "irresponsible bunch."

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon demands that all violence must stop before negotiations resume. He has pledged "painful concessions" in return for peace but has never defined them. However, he rejects a division of Jerusalem.

Arafat, meanwhile, delivered yet another blow to his new premier Monday, appointing an acting security chief despite Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia's opposition.

Qureia, in office just over a week, has already threatened to resign several times over disputes with Arafat. They are engaged in an increasingly bitter dispute over an emergency Cabinet.

Arafat had appointed longtime ally Nasser Yousef interior minister when he named an emergency government Oct. 5. But Yousef defied Arafat by refusing to take part in a swearing-in ceremony last week, and Arafat withdrew his support.

Qureia continued to support Yousef, saying that dropping him now would embarrass the new government.

Regardless, Arafat appointed Hakam Balawi, a senior official from his ruling Fatah party as acting security chief Monday, a Palestinian official said on condition of anonymity.