- The Washington Times - Friday, January 11, 2002

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip Israel sent tanks and bulldozers into a Palestinian refugee camp early yesterday, knocking down dozens of buildings in retaliation for a raid on an army post that left four soldiers dead.

The army said the buildings were hide-outs used by gunmen, but the Palestinians said the bulldozers destroyed residents' homes. Angry residents retrieved a few rain-soaked belongings a mattress, a pot, a stroller from the rubble.

Meanwhile, two major Palestinian militant groups signaled they were scrapping a deal with Yasser Arafat not to mount attacks in Israel, opening the way to renewed violence and dealing a blow to U.S. peace efforts.

Bulldozers backed by tanks entered the Rafah refugee camp in southern Gaza before dawn yesterday. The two gunmen who attacked an army outpost inside Israel on Wednesday were from the area, and some residents had fled their homes fearing retaliation. The gunmen killed four soldiers before being shot and killed.

The U.N. Relief and Works Agency said 45 homes were destroyed, and local officials said hundreds of people were made homeless. Damage was difficult to assess because Israeli troops have targeted the houses in the past and some of the buildings might have been hit in earlier raids.

"What danger does my house pose to the Israeli security?" asked Baha Abu Libdeh, a 31-year-old father of six. "I became homeless today, and my children will remember one thing about the state of Israel: It is the enemy."

Arye Mekel, an Israeli government spokesman, said the buildings destroyed "were used by Palestinian terrorists in order to shoot at Israeli troops."

Palestinian officials said Israel should not have retaliated for Wednesday's attack, which was the first killing of Israelis by Palestinians in almost a month.

The Hamas militant group claimed responsibility for Wednesday's attack, but there appeared to be disagreement between Hamas leaders in the Palestinian areas and abroad on resuming attacks.

Khaled Mashal, a Hamas leader in Beirut, said "the resistance is continuing." But Mahmoud Zahar, a Hamas leader in Gaza City, suggested the assault on the outpost didn't signal a new wave of Hamas attacks.

Hamas announced a suspension of attacks in Israel last month in compliance with Mr. Arafat's call for a truce on Dec. 16.

The smaller Islamic Jihad group said it no longer would abide by that truce. "Starting from today, we will not adhere to any understanding or cooperate with the Palestinian Authority and its security services in the lie of the cease-fire," it said in a statement yesterday.


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