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Israel kills 11, hits 4 factories in latest assault on Hamas

Special to World
Wednesday, February 19, 2003

GAZA CITY Israel's military launched another armored operation in the Gaza Strip, killing 11 Palestinians and destroying four weapons factories.

The six-hour operation was the fourth in as many days by the military and focused on Gaza City. It was called the largest military operation by Israel in Gaza City.

"The operation is the latest in a series against Hamas," an Israeli senior military officer said. "Our goal was to destroy the infrastructure that produces the Kassam missile.

An infantry and armored force, composed of 40 tanks, entered the Sajaiyeh neighborhood of Gaza City overnight Wednesday and destroyed four weapons factories and about 32 lathes. The force, backed by AH-64A Apache attack helicopters, came under heavy Palestinian mortars, grenade and light arms fire during the raid. Sajaiyeh is regarded as a stronghold of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad groups.

Israeli helicopters fired anti-tank rockets toward insurgency positions in the raid. Palestinians reported that 11 insurgents were killed in the operation. One of those killed was a suicide bomber who blew himself up to stop the approaching Israeli force.

Israeli military sources said the operation targeted Kassem-class short-range missile production facilities in the Gaza City. More than 300 Kassem rockets have been fired toward the Israeli city of Sderot alone over the past 10 months.

Earlier, leaders of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad said they were prepared to limit use of such weapons as the Kassam-class short-range missiles and mortars in the war against Israel. They said the weapons would not be used in offensive operations against Israel's military or civilians.

The decision by the Islamic groups was relayed to the Palestinian Authority and the ruling Fatah movement, Palestinian sources said. They said the decision was taken after heavy pressure on Hamas and Jihad by Egypt, which hosted Palestinian reconciliation talks in Cairo last month.

"Hamas also decided to resort to Kassam rockets only to protect Palestinian civilians in case of an Israeli aggression against Gaza cities and towns," Hamas leader Abdul Aziz Rentisi said.

Rentisi said Hamas would also end the use of mortars against Israeli communities in the Gaza Strip. He said the movement would fire missiles only to stop Israeli military incursions in Palestinian areas.

A Jihad spokesman said his group has stopped the use of mortars in attacks on Israeli targets. The organization has focused on suicide operations against Israeli targets in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and the Jewish state.

"The mortars are of no great benefit on the road of Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation," Jihad spokesman Mohammed Hindi said. "It [Jihad] has been avoiding the use of mortars for some time."

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