Israel renews hunt for weapons tunnels in Gaza

Sunday, February 8, 2004

GAZA CITY Israel's military has resumed its search for weapons tunnels that connect the Gaza Strip to neighboring Egypt.

An Israeli force entered Rafah overnight Sunday and raided Palestinian homes and other targets in search for weapons tunnels. Palestinian insurgents responded with gunfire and grenades and at least one Palestinian was killed. The Palestinian was identified as a leading operator of the tunnels.

The military estimates that the Palestinians have operated about a dozen tunnels. Nearly half of them were said to have been found and sealed or destroyed.

[On Sunday, Israeli authorities reported the discovery of an Israeli Arab cell sponsored by Hizbullah that had planned suicide strikes, Middle East Newsline reported. The insurgents, based outside the northern city of Nazareth, were identified as members of the political party of an Israeli Arab parliamentarian, Azmi Bishara.]

Over the weekend, two leading Islamic insurgents were killed. On Saturday, an Islamic Jihad insurgent, identified as Aziz Shami, was killed in an Israeli operation in the Gaza Strip. Shami, a nephew of Jihad leader Abdullah Shami, was said to have planned the attack on the Israeli community of Netsarim in October 2003 and intended a repeat strike.

Shami, 37, was killed by a missile fired by an Israeli AH-64A attack helicopter toward a carload of Jihad insurgents. A 12-year-old was also said to have been killed in the missile attack.

This was the first Israeli air operation against Palestinian insurgents in the Gaza Strip since Dec. 30, 2003 when Israel failed to assassinate a senior Hamas operative. Shami was also said to have escaped a previous Israeli assassination attempt.

Earlier, Hamas said Abdul Nasser Muslem Abu Shoka, 37, commander of the movement in the central Gaza Strip, was killed on Thursday in an explosion in his home in the Bureij refugee camp. Abu Shoka was identified as Hamas's commander in the central Gaza Strip.

Later, Hamas, which blamed Israel for the death of Abu Shoka, fired Kassam-class short-range missiles at Israeli targets in the Gaza Strip.

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