- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 7, 2002

TEL AVIV The United Nations reproached Israel for a pre-dawn incursion yesterday into a Gaza Strip refugee town that killed two of its humanitarian workers during a search for Palestinian militants.
Ten Palestinians were killed and about 20 were wounded after a three-hour battle in the El-Bureij refugee camp in which Israeli tanks, bulldozers and helicopter gunships were used. The Israelis met fierce resistance by local militiamen who countered with machine-gun fire and hand grenades.
The sides gave conflicting accounts on how many civilians died in the attack, which took place during the Muslim holiday of Eid el-Fitr, marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
Six Hamas activists were among those killed, according to a statement received by the Hezbollah TV station al-Manar in Lebanon.
The European Union also took Israel to task yesterday over the Palestinian killings. In Copenhagen, the Danish presidency of the EU strongly condemned "military or other violent actions directed indiscriminately against a civilian neighborhood, whether Palestinian or Israeli."
"There can be no justification for the high number of killed and injured as a result of last night's Israeli incursion into the El-Bureij refugee camp in Gaza," it said.
"While recognizing Israel's legitimate right to fight terrorism, the EU has consistently rejected Israeli methods of extra-judicial killings and house demolitions and Israel's excessive use of force," the statement said.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan was "gravely concerned" by the incursion, U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said in New York. "He wishes to remind the government of Israel of its obligations as an occupying power to protect the civilian population and urges them to ensure that the Israeli Defense Forces behave with greater restraint and discipline and in conformity with international humanitarian law."
Israel demolished the house of Aiman Shasniyeh, a Palestinian accused of carrying out attacks on settlers and soldiers in the Gaza Strip, but failed to arrest the militant. It was the second time in three days that the army had targeted members of the Popular Resistance Committee, a Gaza militia known for using land mines to destroy two Merkava tanks, reputed as the most secure armored vehicle in the world.
An army spokesman called the incursion a "precise operation" aimed at the most "senior-level terrorists."
Palestinian witnesses said the incursion began at 1:30 a.m. yesterday when about 25 tanks and three bulldozers rumbled into Bureij, a densely populated town of about 30,000 south of Gaza City.
Israeli army sources said a helicopter was called in to snuff out two sources of heavy gunfire during the fighting. The military said the helicopter fired a missile into the street, killing five members of Hamas.
"There was shooting from all directions, and then the tanks arrived," said Isa Shasniyeh, a brother of Aiman, who was arrested during the incursion. "They came to our house, and I was blindfolded, and our house was blown up."
On Wednesday, Mustafa Sabah, another member of the Popular Resistance Committee, had been killed in a missile attack on a Palestinian police station in Gaza City.
U.N. Relief and Works Agency said the staff members killed Osama Hassan Tahrawi, 31, and Ahlam Riziq Kandil, 32 worked at schools in the town. Miss Kandil was shot in the neck, shoulder and abdomen while insider her house.
Last month, UNRWA official Iain Hook was killed by Israeli soldiers during clashes in Jenin, prompting Mr. Annan to demand that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon punish the soldiers responsible. Israeli soldiers said they mistook Mr. Hook's cell phone for a weapon.
"This loss of civilian lives, of people working for a humanitarian U.N. agency, is completely unacceptable," the agency's Commissioner General Peter Hansen said in Geneva yesterday. "I must condemn what appears to be the indiscriminate use of heavy firepower in a densely populated civilian area."
Palestinian witnesses said six of those killed yesterday were unarmed civilians from two families.

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