Hamas says 25 of its operatives killed during incursion

Special to World
Tuesday, October 5, 2004

GAZA CITY Hamas has acknowledged that about a third of Palestinian casualties in the Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip comprised fighters of the Islamic insurgency movement.

Hamas said 25 members of the Izzedin Kassam military wing were killed in the week-long Israeli military operation in the northern Gaza Strip. In a communique, Hamas said one of the insurgents was the brother of the movement's spokesman, Mushir Al Masri.

"Our rifles will stay aimed at the enemy as long as it occupies our land," Hamas said. "Our martyrs were killed in these days of rage witnessed in the northern Gaza Strip. Our response to these massacres won't take too long."

Hamas's acknowledgement of casualties came as Palestinian sources reported a debate within the insurgency group whether to appeal for a ceasefire. The sources said the Palestinian Authority urged Hamas to agree to end missile attacks on Israel in exchange for a withdrawal of the military from the northern Gaza Strip.

Palestinian sources said about 80 Palestinians have been killed in the Israeli military operation. They said more than a third of the casualties were civilians. On Tuesday, two Palestinians were reported killed in fighting in Jabalya.

The Israeli group B'Tselem asserted in a report that 40 percent of the Palestinian casualties in the current Israeli military operation were civilians. Israel's military said the lion's share of Palestinian casualties were armed combatants and that insurgents were using civilians for cover.

On Tuesday, Israeli main battle tanks, attack helicopters and troops focused their operations in Bet Hanoun and the Jabalya refugee camp. The camp has about 90,000 residents and regarded as the stronghold of Hamas and the focus of Kassam-class short-range missile production.

Meanwhile, Israeli military sources expressed doubts over a government charge that the United Nations allowed Kassam missiles to be transported in the organization's ambulances. On Tuesday, Israel's military removed from its web site five video clips provided by an Israeli unmanned aerial vehicle and the sources said the footage would be reexamined.

One of the clips removed was said to have shown Palestinian combatants loading missiles into a UN Relief and Works Agency ambulance. The UN said the vehicle shown in the Israeli video was being loaded with stretchers.

Over the last day, Israel's military has released additional video clips that show UN vehicles near Hamas operations. Military sources said UN vehicles have been summoned by Hamas insurgents to serve as shields against Israeli attacks.

"There has been a clear terrorist use of UNRWA vehicles for the transport of terrorists," Brig. Gen. Shmuel Zakai, commander of Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip, said.

In Washington, the State Department said it could not confirm the Israeli claim that Hamas used UN vehicles for the transport of Kassam missiles. The United States provides more than $100 million in annual aid to UNRWA.

"We, too, have seen those reports," State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli said. "I'm not in a position to validate them for you. Obviously, if resources of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees were misused in this way, it would be unacceptable."

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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