- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 4, 2003

The United States scolded Israel yesterday for the mounting civilian death toll during recent raids into the Gaza Strip, including one yesterday in which a pregnant woman and a 13-year old boy died.
"We continue to be seriously concerned about civilian casualties and we have urged the Israeli government to take appropriate caution to prevent the death or injury of innocent civilians and damage to civilian humanitarian infrastructure," department spokesman Richard Boucher told a daily briefing.
"We are also deeply concerned about the increasing Israeli use … of demolition and the civilian deaths that have resulted from this practice."
But Mr. Boucher said the United States "understands the need for Israel to defend itself against ongoing violence and terror."
Israel's incursions into the Gaza strip, including a the raid yesterday in which a top leader of Hamas was arrested, reflect a campaign to counter a surge in Palestinian rocket attacks and other militant activity, Israeli officials say.
Israeli soldiers blew up four houses in the Bureij refugee camp, including that of Hamas co-founder Mohammed Taha, 65, who was wounded in clashes with soldiers before being taking into custody.
Eight Palestinians were killed in the raid.
Israel has so far resisted reoccupying the Gaza Strip as it did key Palestinian cities in the West Bank.
But the arrests of Mr. Taha as well as his five sons signaled an escalation in Israel's crackdown on Hamas, which has killed hundreds of Israelis in shootings and suicide bombings.
Since the outbreak of fighting in September 2000, Israel has killed scores of Hamas militants and rounded up hundreds of activists but left the political leadership in Gaza alone.
Israeli officials continue to resist calls to occupy parts of Gaza amid fears such an operation in the densely populated seaside territory would result in heavy civilian casualties and negative international repercussions.
But incursions into the strip have become increasingly frequent.
Last week, the Israeli army spent two days combing Beit Hanoun, a village near Bureij in the northwestern corner of the strip. It was searching for militants who use the adjacent fields to fire Kassem rockets at the Israeli town of Sderot, less than three miles away.
In two earlier incursions into Gaza City, Israelis destroyed factories believed to be Kassem production lines but failed to stop the attacks.
Palestinians retaliated for yesterday's raid by firing four rockets at Sderot, the army said. A number of Israelis were treated for shock, but no serious injuries were reported.
The rocket attacks are reminiscent of Hezbollah's use of Katyusha rockets to harass Israeli towns along the border with Lebanon in the 1990s.
Although the crude Kassems are much smaller than the Katyushas and haven't caused any fatalities, Israel says it will ratchet up retaliations if that changes.
"In the Gaza Strip, we are increasing the pressure and the scope of our operations against Hamas," Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said Sunday. "We want to arrive at a situation where the terror organizations invest more and more defending themselves."
In Lebanon, Hezbollah was able to deter Israeli offensives with the threat of firing Katyusha rockets at towns in northern Israel.
Israel wants to prevent Hamas from establishing the same linkage in Gaza.

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