- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 11, 2004

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Israeli troops rode tanks into the Gaza Strip yesterday searching for Islamic militants who fired rockets at nearby Jewish settlements. Two separate clashes left at least 15 Palestinians dead and more than 50 wounded.

It was one of the bloodiest days in Gaza in months, with the fiercest fighting occurring in the Shajaiyeh neighborhood of Gaza City. Twelve persons, including the son of a prominent Palestinian leader and a senior Hamas activist, were killed and at least 40 were wounded, Palestinian doctors said.

Later yesterday, Hamas, which has carried out dozens of suicide bombings in Israel over the past three years, vowed retaliation. The group’s militant wing called on all of its cells to carry out “huge martyrdom operations,” saying “all options are open.”

In a separate raid in the Rafah area along the Gaza-Egypt border, troops killed three more Palestinians, including a militant, as they searched for arms-smuggling tunnels. The third to die was a 19-year-old man, shot at nightfall. It was not immediately known whether he was armed.

The troops demolished three houses and razed citrus and olive groves.

The fighting in Gaza City erupted before dawn and continued for several hours. The army and Palestinian residents said the troops pulled out by early afternoon.

During the fighting, dozens of men stood in the streets watching as gunfire whizzed around them. Gunmen took up positions in front of a building and ordered civilians out of the area.

Later in the day, the army blew up the house of a Hamas militant who was killed and they sent tanks into the neighborhood.

The dead Palestinians included 10 militants, Palestinian sources said. They also included Mohammed Hilles, 18, the son of Ahmed Hilles, the top leader of Yasser Arafat’s Fatah faction in Gaza, and senior Hamas activist Hani Abu Skhaila.

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