- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 19, 2006

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Israeli tanks and infantry took up positions on the Egypt-Gaza border yesterday for the first time since the pullout from Gaza a year ago, killing two Palestinian gunmen as the army broadened its search for arms-smuggling tunnels.

Palestinian security officials said Israeli troops and tanks moved into the border town of Rafah before dawn yesterday and took over a section of the frontier, including the area around the Rafah border terminal.

The army said Israeli forces were pressing an operation to uncover tunnels used by Palestinian militants to smuggle weapons from Egypt. The army said it has uncovered five tunnels so far.

Israel has sent tanks and troops in and out of Gaza and stepped up air strikes against suspected militants and weapons caches since Hamas-linked militants tunneled under the border in late June and attacked an Israeli army post, killing two soldiers and capturing another, Cpl. Gilad Shalit.

Yesterday morning, Israeli troops killed two Hamas militants as they approached army positions in Rafah, the army and Palestinians said.

Hamas said in a statement one of the two was a senior participant involved in Cpl. Shalit’s abduction.

Israel said militants have smuggled large quantities of weapons over and under the border since Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza last year.

Army spokeswoman Capt. Noa Meir said Israel would continue military operations as long as needed to block the flow of arms, which she said included guns, explosives and anti-tank rockets.

“The tunnels are part of a production line meant to kill Israelis, and it’s our job to stop it,” she said.

Briefing reporters during a visit to Moscow, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said the operation was limited.

“We have no intention of staying anywhere in Gaza,” he said.

The Palestinian officials said troops carried out house-to-house searches and bulldozers leveled agricultural land near the border. Troops also surrounded the Rafah border terminal, where about 60 Palestinian security personnel remained, the officials said.

The crossing, the only land bridge from Gaza to the outside world without passing through Israel, has been closed most of the time since violence flared in June.

Internal Palestinian violence continued yesterday amid a power struggle between the governing group, Hamas and the rival Fatah movement. A Hamas activist was fatally shot as he left a mosque in the West Bank city of Nablus, apparently by Fatah gunmen. At a Hamas demonstration later, protesters blamed Fatah and its leaders, including Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Hamas called a strike in the city for today.

Meanwhile, Israel’s Supreme Court said a Palestinian student should be allowed to study for a doctorate at Israel’s Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The court gave the parties a week to find a solution before issuing a ruling.

The student, Sawsan Salameh, 29, lives in a West Bank village a 15-minute drive from the university campus.

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