Israeli hunt for Hamas commander sparks 14-hour battle

Friday, May 2, 2003

GAZA CITY Israeli and Palestinian forces have engaged in one of the fiercest battles in the more than 30-month-old insurgency war.

Israeli infantry and air units battled Palestinian insurgency forces for more than 14 hours in Gaza City on Thursday. Both sides employed anti-tank weapons and automatic fire.

The battle began with an Israeli incursion into a Hamas stronghold in Gaza City in search for a Hamas military commander, Middle East Newsline reported. Palestinian sources said Hamas and other insurgents were alerted to the Israeli entry and responded with heavy anti-tank, mortar and automatic fire.

By Thursday evening, Hamas military commander Yusef Abu Heen and his two brothers, who also joined the battle, were killed. The three brothers were said to have organized Kassam-2 short-range missile attacks on Israel from the northern Gaza Strip.

Israeli tanks and attack helicopters fired shells, anti-tank weapons and missiles toward a four-story building in the Sejaiyeh neighborhood in Gaza City, suspected of harboring Hamas military commanders. Palestinian sources said 13 Palestinians were killed in the battle.

Palestinian sources said the military brought up to 60 tanks and armored vehicles to Gaza City. They said insurgents from Hamas, Fatah and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine knocked out at least two Israeli tanks and armored vehicles.

"The Palestinians threw everything they had anti-tank rockets, automatic fire, bombs, you name it," Brig. Gen. Gabi Shami, commander of Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip, said. Shami did not confirm Palestinian claims of Israeli tank losses.

Overnight Friday, Israeli forces resumed raids on Islamic strongholds in the Gaza Strip. Israeli troops were said to have captured 12 Palestinians, three of them wanted by the military.

"We are using a legitimate weapon to confront the Zionist aggression the weapon of resistance and it will not be dropped as long as occupation exists," Hamas said in a statement.

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