- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 23, 2003

GAZA, Feb. 23 (UPI) — Eleven Palestinians and one Israeli soldier were killed Sunday during a day-long Israeli incursion in Gaza and the West Bank, Palestinian security and medical sources reported.

Israel has intensified its activities in Beit Hanoon, in the northwestern tip of the Gaza Strip, in an attempt to prevent Palestinians from firing Qassam rockets across the border into Israel, or at least push them father away.

"Recently, we could see a hornets' nest developing, and that involved not only firing Qassam rockets," Brig. Gen. Zvi Fogel, the chief of staff of the Southern Command said.

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz told the cabinet on Sunday that he has instructed the Israel Defense Forces to make every effort to prevent Qassam rockets from being launched.

Hamas has sustained many strikes over the past week and Israel will continue its pressure on the Hamas infrastructure, the minister added.

So far, it seems, the army has not achieved its goal. Late Sunday, Palestinians fired an undetermined number of Qassam missiles into Israel. A military spokeswoman said at least two rockets hit Israel — but other reports said five.

One missile hit the old commercial center in the town of Sderot but didn't detonate. The others fell in open areas.

Commenting on the continued rocket attacks, the commander of the Israeli division in the Gaza Strip, Brig. Gen. Gadi Shemani, said: "Whoever thinks one operation or even several operations are needed to to totally stop such shooting or terror activity is wrong."

As many as 40 Israeli army tanks, armored personnel carriers and infantry troops raided the northern Gaza Strip village of Beit Hanoon before dawn Sunday, villagers said.

The Palestinian Authority's Ministry of Health said that the Israeli army killed seven Palestinians in Beit Hanoon.

An IDF spokeswoman said the soldiers came under Palestinian fire including a bomb hurled at them. An infantry officer was slightly injured in an exchange of fire.

One Palestinian was killed in Nablus, another near the Jewish settlement of Netzarim south of Gaza City and yet another west of Khan Younis in southern Gaza Strip. One Palestinian was also killed in Tulkarem, the Palestinian statement said. Dozens of Palestinians were also injured in the Israeli offensive, it added.

In a leaflet sent to United Press International, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine claimed responsibility for shooting dead an Israeli soldier west of the town of Khan Younis in southern Gaza Strip. The soldier was in an observation post and was shot by a sniper, Fogel said.

The PA said that Israel had suddenly increased its attacks on the Palestinians, killing many people, and imposed long curfews on Palestinian towns and villages. The escalation in Israeli activity, the statement warned, could lead to a humanitarian disaster in the area.

In a letter sent to UPI, the Fatah movement, chaired by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, urged the U.N. Security Council to halt the Israeli aggression in the Palestinian territories.

The group also appealed to the Arab, Islamic and non-aligned countries' summits to intervene immediately "to end the Israeli military aggression on our defenseless people."

Palestinian security officials and residents said that the Israeli army forces reoccupied the entire village of Beit Hanoon within two hours and planned to stay in the village for several days.

The offensive in Beit Hanoon came after Palestinian militants, members of the Islamic resistance movement Hamas armed wing, fired several home-made Qassam rockets from that village towards Israel.

Fogel would not say how long the Israeli troops planned to stay in Beit Hanoon. "We'll stay there, do our job, and leave … when we'll think the threat was removed, at least partially," he said.

Palestinian medical sources at Shiffa Hospital in Gaza City said that five Palestinians were killed and seven wounded by the Israeli soldiers' gunfire during the Israeli army operation in the village.

The sources said a 19-year-old man and two other individuals, identified only as a Palestinian police officer and a 23-year-old militant, were killed during the raid on the village, and seven others were injured during armed confrontations between militants and Israeli soldiers.

The medical sources and witnesses in the village said Israeli soldiers arrested two Palestinian public security officers and immediately shot them dead. They said the Palestinian public security officers were shot in the head after being ordered to kneel.

The residents said the soldiers blew up four houses belonging to Palestinian militant members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, adding that one of the houses belonged to the bodyguard of Hamas leader Salah Shehada — who was killed in July during an F-16 jet fighter raid on Gaza.

The IDF spokeswoman said one house belonged to an Islamic Jihad activist whose son hurled hand grenades at soldiers. A ready-made explosive belt was found in the house. The three other houses belonged Hamas activists, two of whom had aided the man responsible for blowing up an Israeli tank on Feb. 18, killing four soldiers.

"The destruction of terrorists' houses is a message to suicide bombers and their partners in terror that their activity carried a price that anyone who takes part in hostile terrorist activity will pay," the IDF spokeswoman said.

During the confrontations, the armed wing of Islamic Jihad Saraya Al Quds claimed responsibility for destroying an Israeli army tank after they detonated a roadside bomb the tank drove over it.

Residents in the village said the Israeli soldiers captured one of the houses and used it as a military post, adding that the soldiers raided the houses and arrested several people.

The operation was still under way late Sunday in the village, from where most of the young men escaped to Gaza City, expecting the soldiers would remain in the area for a long time.

Palestinian security sources said that another Palestinian was shot dead near the Jewish settlement of Nitzarim, south of Gaza City, also before dawn Sunday, as he tried to infiltrate the settlement to carry out an attack. The security sources said that the Israeli army claimed that the soldiers found a hand grenade and a rifle with the Palestinian militant.

Palestinian Radio reported that an Israeli soldier who was seriously injured near the southern Gaza Strip town of Khan Younis died early Sunday of wounds sustained after Palestinian militants shot at an Israeli army lookout post.

The armed wing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine said in a leaflet that it claimed responsibility for killing an Israeli soldier near Khan Younis in southern Gaza Strip.

(Saud Abu Ramadan reported from Gaza and Joshua Brilliant from Tel Aviv, Israel.)


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