- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 8, 2002

KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza Strip A predawn Israeli tank and helicopter raid outside Khan Younis killed 14 persons and injured more than 180 yesterday, threatening to complicate U.S. efforts to gather international support for a campaign against Iraq.
The incursion, which targeted an area identified by Israel as a stronghold of Palestinian militants, resulted in mostly civilian casualties, hospital officials said. The day marked the highest Palestinian death toll in the Gaza Strip since July 23, when an Israeli F-16 killed 13 civilians in Gaza City during a raid targeting a Hamas military commander.
The violence yesterday triggered speculation among Palestinians about Israeli incursions into other cities. By evening, Islamic and secular Palestinian militias in Gaza had begun coordinating preparations for a likely invasion.
About 10 of the victims died when an Israeli helicopter fired a missile into a crowd of hundreds of residents of the Al Amal neighborhood who had gathered to survey damage in the area after withdrawal of ground forces.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon "has made propaganda for the Likud party elections on the heads of our people," said Palestinian legislator Raajat Al Najar, citing opposition to the Israeli leader from within his own political party.
"We'd like to send the killed bodies to [President] Bush so he can see what his weapons are doing."
The Israeli attack came a week before Mr. Sharon's scheduled visit to Washington for talks expected to center on U.S. policy toward Iraq. U.S. officials expressed unhappiness at the latest strike.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the United States was "deeply troubled" by the killings.
"While the precise details still remain uncertain, Israeli operations were undertaken in crowded civilian areas and involved firing on a medical facility," Mr. Boucher said. "We think it's very important that Israeli forces do their utmost to act in a manner that avoids harm to civilians and humanitarian facilities."
The Israeli army said that it had sent the helicopter to strike militants shooting at the Israeli tanks as they left the neighborhood. At least one Palestinian witness said the crowd on the street included militants who fired their rifles in the air to celebrate the pullback.
"This was an important operation," said Brig. Gen. Israel Ziff, an Israeli commander. "The neighborhood had been a closed stronghold of Hamas and other militant groups. The aim was to penetrate and sweep the area for armed persons."
More than 50 tanks and military vehicles moved into the neighborhood, located less than a mile from the Israeli settlement of Ganei Tal, at about 1 a.m. The incursion force encountered resistance from local fighters, who threw hand grenades and detonated roadside bombs, an Israeli spokeswoman said. The army said that it arrested one militant who was carrying explosives.
The casualty toll for the day continued to rise even after the army withdrew. Israeli forces fired on a Khan Younis hospital where the victims from the overnight attack had been taken, killing one. The military said the shots were fired in response to mortars coming from an area near the hospital.
Hundreds of Palestinian men marched in a funeral procession at noon through the center of Khan Younis, as loudspeakers called for revenge.
While mourners collected outside the house of one of the victims, a group of six militants gathered in an apartment to discuss retaliation.
"We must fight back, but I can't tell you how," said Abu Ka'ed, a spokesman for the militants, sitting on the floor with rifles at his feet. "In this case, there is no Hamas or Islamic Jihad, all of us act as one body to fight the occupation."
Thousands of demonstrators marched and burned tires in Gaza City last night to protest the killings.


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