- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 26, 2003

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip Israeli tanks entered Gaza City from three directions and helicopter gunships exchanged fire, killing 12 Palestinians early today, in the deepest incursion in more than two years of fighting, security officials and witnesses said.
Witnesses said helicopters fired on crowds, including gunmen, gathering in Gaza streets. Twelve Palestinians were killed and 51 wounded, hospital officials said.
Tanks were spotted just a mile from downtown Palestine Square.
Israeli forces blew up the two-story house of a Hamas militant and were approaching the houses of two others involved in an attack on a Jewish settlement in Gaza, Palestinians said. A metal workshop in the same area was blown up.
Early today, witnesses said nine Israeli tanks took up positions in the center of Beit Hanoun, a town at the northern edge of the Gaza Strip, where Israeli forces blew up four bridges a day earlier.
The Israeli military said that during the operation, soldiers came under heavy fire from guns and anti-tank weapons and that the Israeli forces returned the fire.
The raid came just three days before an Israeli general election that was expected to keep Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his Likud party in power.
The incursion began around 10 p.m. yesterday, with about 35 tanks moving toward the center of Gaza City from three directions, witnesses and security officials said.
Palestinian legislator Ziad Abu Amr said he saw 10 tanks drive through his street. Another resident, Mohammed Tafesh, 29, said electricity was cut in the neighborhood. From mosque loudspeakers across the city, gunmen were called into the streets to wage "holy war" against the Israelis.
Two helicopter gunships fired machine guns at armed men. In one incident, gunmen fired an anti-tank missile at an Israeli armored vehicle, drawing Israeli tank fire. Mr. Tafesh said the gunmen got away.
Early yesterday troops left the Palestinian town of Beit Hanoun, in northern Gaza, after a Palestinian teenager was killed and 25 residents were wounded there in a fierce firefight. The raid was triggered by Palestinian rocket fire on the nearby Israeli town of Sderot on Friday.
Troops blew up four small bridges the army said were used by militants in Beit Hanoun to fire rockets. Palestinians have fired more than 30 rockets from Beit Hanoun at Israeli towns and settlements in the past year, an army statement said.
Mr. Sharon said in an interview on Israel's Russian-language TV network yesterday that Israel would not gamble with its security.
"Israel will be willing in exchange for real peace, peace for generations to make concessions," Mr. Sharon said. "As long as I am prime minister there will be no compromise, not now and not in the future, on the issue of security of the citizens of Israel or the security of the state of Israel."


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