Fourteen die as Israeli tanks and gunships raid Gaza refugee camps 

Fourteen die as Israeli tanks and gunships raid Gaza refugee camps

Yep, the Israeli Defence Force is at it again, slaughtering innocent civilians. And once again, I'm sure the USA will block all UN attempts to deal with the situation.


Fourteen die as Israeli tanks and gunships raid Gaza refugee camps
By Donald Macintyre in Jerusalem

08 March 2004

Fourteen Palestinians were killed yesterday in more than six hours of fighting after Israeli forces, including tanks and helicopter gunships, mounted their deadliest incursion into Gaza for almost 18 months. The heavy exchanges of fire in two densely populated refugee camps claimed the lives of four civilians - including a boy aged 10 - and 10 militants, nine of them Hamas activists. No Israeli casualties were reported.

The raid began in darkness at 3.30am when Israeli forces, with at least two Apache helicopter gunships hovering overhead, advanced slowly along alleys and side streets on the fringes of the Bureij and Nusseirat refugee camps.

In a series of subsequent battles, several hundred Palestinians armed with assault rifles, anti-tank missiles and grenade launchers engaged with Israeli troops firing from helicopters, tanks and commandeered rooftop positions. Palestinian sources said some of the heaviest fighting had been in the area of Al Daewa Ila Allah Street, site of the biggest mosque in the Gaza Strip.

Israeli troops finally withdrew at 10am but the army said its pullback had been delayed by militants harassing it with rocket-propelled grenades and mortars. Officers said that an earthmover that became stuck was attacked by dozens of homemade missiles.

Palestinian sources named the dead civilians as Ahmad Zuraiq, 13, Muhammad Badawi, 15, Yousef Yunis, 10, and Haitham Issawi, 16. Of 80 people said to have been injured in the fighting, 23 were taken to Shifa hospital in Gaza City including three said to be critical.

The Israeli army said the incursion had been intended to "prevent acts of terrorism" against Israeli targets - among them settlements in Gaza from which Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has said he wants to withdraw the Israeli residents.

Ari Pazner, an Israeli government spokesman, said that "terrorism is pouring out of this refugee camp, and we have to stop it", adding: "We believe that by doing so we have prevented acts of terror in Israel and saved many human lives." Mr Pazner strongly denied a link between the raid and the planned withdrawal. "We are now fighting terrorism. This has nothing to do with any future plan about Gaza," he said.

But with some commentators suggesting that both sides may be preparing to depict any Israeli pull-out as a victory, yesterday's incursion is likely to fuel speculation that Mr Sharon - facing criticism from the extreme Israeli right for his withdrawal plan - is determined to show that he is tougher than ever in cracking down on suspected militants.

Saeb Erekat, a Palestinian cabinet minister, condemned the raid, calling for a return to negotiations on the floundering US-backed road-map. "At a time when they're speaking about withdrawing from Gaza, they're destroying Gaza," he said.

As Hamas and Islamic Jihad vowed vengeance for the raid and many thousands joined the funeral procession for the 14 killed earlier in the day, Ghazi Hamad, the editor in chief of al Risala, a pro-Hamas weekly newspaper, insisted that despite Israeli military superiority, militants "do not want to surrender. They prefer to die as martyrs. More fighters will join Hamas after each operation."

After what some observers saw as a new tactic of seeking to draw out militants on to the streets, the Israeli army said that the incursion had been directed at "uncovering terrorist cells" in Bureij, which it held responsible for repeated mortar and rocket attacks on Israeli settlements, including Netzarim in central Gaza. The army insisted the incursion was unrelated to Saturday's foiled but elaborately planned operation by Palestinian militants at the Erez crossing into Gaza on Saturday.

In that attack, four militants and two Palestinian policemen were killed when a convoy of three vehicles - including at least one jeep disguised as an Israeli army vehicle - drove at the crossing points.

After the first vehicle, a booby-trapped taxi apparently driven by a suicide bomber, exploded on the Palestinian side of the crossing, and a jeep, also heavily laden with explosives, blew up at the Palestinian outpost nearest to the Israeli side of the crossing.

Senior Israeli officers said that the Palestinian Authority policemen had been killed as they tried to halt the vehicles from moving further north towards the Israeli border posts. The third jeep, bearing Israeli military insignia, then drove at speed towards the Israeli post nearest to the Palestinian side.

As it crashed into a barrier, Israeli sources said, a gunman wearing Israeli uniform left the car and opened fire on Israeli soldiers who returned fire, killing the gunman and his fellow passenger. Hamas said that the "self-sacrifice operation" had been jointly carried out with Islamic Jihad and the al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, which is linked to Yasser Arafat's Fatah.

* The Israeli State Comptroller, Eliezer Goldberg, is to investigate the prisoner exchange with Hizbollah in January in which the army reserve Colonel Elhanan Tennenbaum was brought back to Israel in return for the release to Lebanon of 400 mainly Palestinian prisoners. Although Mr Goldberg said he will decide the scope of the inquiry after it begins, it is likely to consider the disclosure that Ariel Sharon once had a business association with Mr Tennenbaum's father-in-law, Shimon Cohen.


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