Israelis kill 15 in attack on Gaza camp

Special to World
Monday, March 8, 2004

GAZA CITY Israel's military has cut short a major operation in two Palestinian refugee camps.

Palestinian sources said 15 people were killed and about 80 were injured in Sunday's military operation in refugee camps in the central Gaza Strip.

They said Israeli forces employed tanks, armored Humvees and AH-64A Apache attack helicopters in the El Bureij and Nusseirat camps.

The Israeli force, which appeared to have targeted Hamas insurgency strongholds, made little headway amid fierce resistance from Palestinian insurgents and civilian operatives. The sources said Hamas and Fatah insurgents fired anti-tank missiles, rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and AK-47 assault rifles from homes along the Israeli invasion route while scores of civilians, many of them teenagers, hurled stones and rushed Israeli tanks and Humvees.

After several hours, the Israeli force withdrew from Bureij and at least one tank was disabled, the sources said. They said the military did not capture any significant weaponry in either Bureij or Nusseirat.

Fifteen Palestinians were killed in the clash with Israeli troops. Nine of them were said to have been Hamas insurgents and another two were Fatah operatives. The sources said the rest were civilians, including those from the ages of 12 to 15.

Israel's military termed the operation a success. But officials said the participation of hundreds of youngsters in the fighting resulted in a military order to withdraw before the completion of the operation.

"They [civilians] were not so naive," Deputy Defense Minister Ze'ev Boim said. "They accompanied the terrorists and they were called by mosques to serve as human shields."

Israeli officials said the military has been targeting Hamas strongholds in the Gaza Strip amid alerts for a spate of suicide operations in Israel. They said Hamas has been building what they termed a popular army in the Gaza Strip, complete with rockets, missiles and artillery.

On Monday, Hamas gunners from the Gaza Strip fired a Kassam-class short-range missile toward an unspecified Israeli town. Nobody was reported injured.

Hamas was said to have produced the Kassams and mortars in El Bureij. Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya'alon has linked the weapons production by Hamas and other Palestinian insurgency groups to the expectation of a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

"We are continuing our offensive operations against terrorists, both in Judea and Samaria [West Bank] and in the Gaza Strip," Ya'alon said during a tour of the Erez terminal in the northern Gaza Strip. "We will continue these operations as long as terror strikes us."

In the West Bank, Israeli forces have found an explosives factory in the village of Anzah south of Jenin. An Israeli military statement said the laboratory contained empty mortar casings, gunpowder, pipes for manufacturing bombs, pesticides and a cellular phone attached to electric wires.

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