Israel resumes tunnel hunt after firefight with Jihad fugitive

Special to World
Thursday, December 11, 2003

GAZA CITY Israel's military has renewed its effort to locate and destroy Palestinian tunnels after capturing a Jihad operative responsible for smuggling weapons from Egypt.

Three Palestinians were killed in a firefight leading up to the capture. Israeli military sources said the man was a fugitive who has used the tunnels to smuggle arms and ammunition.

Israeli forces operated Thursday in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah along the border with Egypt in a search for tunnels that connect to the adjacent Sinai Peninsula. Palestinian sources said a total of five people were killed in the fighting between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians.

Israeli military sources said soldiers and tanks surrounded the home of a senior Jihad fugitive. At that point, they said, Palestinian gunmen opened fire, and launched an anti-tank missile toward the Israeli troops. The military unit returned fire and three Palestinians were killed and 12 were injured.

Hours later, Israeli troops, supported by a helicopter, captured the Jihad insurgent. The sources said he was responsible for a series of attacks as well as the smuggling of weapons and explosives through the tunnels from Egypt.

The Israeli elite Givati unit found and destroyed two tunnels in what was termed the largest such operation since October.

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The Israeli operation was said to have focused on Palestinian operatives from Hamas and Islamic Jihad responsible for the operations of the tunnels.

[On Thursday afternoon, at least three people were killed and 26 injured in a car bombing in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv. Police termed the attack an attempt by Israeli criminals to kill a mob boss rather than a Palestinian insurgency strike.]

Israel's military has assessed that Palestinian insurgents constructed at least 13 tunnels that connect the Egyptian- and Palestinian-controlled sections of Rafah.

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