- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 20, 2003

GAZA, Feb. 20 (UPI) — Israel sent troops supported by tanks, armored personnel carriers, jeeps and bulldozers into the Gaza Strip Thursday night, setting up security checks and closing off roads to Palestinians.

Palestinian security sources said Israeli soldiers were stationed at numerous points within the northern, eastern and southern parts of the Gaza Strip and have divided the territory into three isolated slices. Gaza meets the Mediterranean Sea to the west.

The incursion came a day after Palestinians shot several rockets into Israel, which was itself a response to an Israeli operation Wednesday that destroyed metal workshops in Gaza. Israeli authorities said the workshops contained, and soldiers destroyed, more than 30 metal lathes that could manufacture parts for rockets and mortars. Eleven Palestinians were killed in exchanges of fire during the seven-hour operation.

Gaza residents told United Press International they feared the Israelis were setting up to stay, in contrast to previous short operations.

Until recently Israel has focused most of its military attention to the West Bank, where several militant groups are based and where Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is currently contained in his Ramallah headquarters. But focus has swung on Gaza particularly since Saturday, when Hamas militants blew up a well-armored Israeli tank with a potent explosive, killing the four Israel Defense Forces soldiers inside.

Israel's Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz announced earlier this week that the IDF would intensify and widen its military actions against Palestinian guerillas, especially those belonging to Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Hamas — the initials for "Islamic Resistance Movement" in Arabic as well as the Arabic word for courage — recognizes neither Israel nor the Palestinian Authority, and has vowed to destroy the Jewish state.

"All those attempts to eliminate the Palestinian existence on this land had failed," Abdel Aziz Ranteezi, Hamas spokesman in the Gaza Strip, told UPI after the Israeli forces moved in to Gaza. "The Hamas movement is able to return strikes on Israel in retaliation to the Zionist escalation."

About 1.4 million Palestinians live in Gaza, an area of about 140 square miles, or slightly more than twice the size of the American capital, Washington. About two-thirds of Gaza residents live below the poverty line.

Hamas militants in Gaza fired two more Al Qassam rockets at Israel Thursday and another one at the Jewish settlement of Nitzarim south of Gaza City. Contrary to Wednesday's attack, none of the rockets reportedly caused damage or injury. The retaliatory rockets on Wednesday landed on and damaged buildings in an industrial town, Sderot, just outside Gaza. Three Israelis were reportedly injured.

In the West Bank, Palestinian medical sources reported two Palestinians, a 17-year-old boy and his grandfather, 55, were shot on Thursday by Israeli troops in Nablus. The boy died on the scene and his grandfather, who witnesses said was escorting the boy home from prayers at a mosque, died later in the hospital.

In the Old City of Nablus Thursday, Israeli soldiers conducted house-to-house searches for militants and bomb-making equipment. The IDF said one soldier was "lightly to moderately injured" when a bullet struck him in the leg.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide