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2 Palestinians Die in Israeli Operation

December 1, 2002

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JERUSALEM (AP) _ Israeli troops shot dead one Palestinian and a second Palestinian man died under the rubble of one of the three homes the soldiers demolished in an overnight operation in the Gaza Strip.

Late Saturday, Israeli forces backed by about 30 tanks rolled into the Gaza Strip town of Beit Lahiya, about 3 miles north of Gaza City, firing machine guns and tank shells that knocked out the town’s power transformer, witnesses and Palestinian security officials said.

Palestinian witnesses said there were fierce exchanges of fire between Palestinians and Israeli troops during the three-hour incursion. They said the dead man was an innocent bystander, watching events from the balcony of his home. The army said its soldiers fired at and hit armed Palestinians.

Early Sunday, hours after the army withdrew from the town, Palestinians found the body of 70-year-old Ashour Dab under the rubble of one of the three homes the army demolished, Palestinian witnesses and civil emergency officials said. They said Dab did not have time to flee his home before the demolition due to his old age. The army was checking the report.

The army said the force demolished the homes of three Islamic militants who were responsible for killing some 24 Israelis.

The home of Hisham Dab, an Islamic Jihad suicide bomber who killed 20 Israelis in a March 1996 attack in Tel Aviv, was demolished in the operation, the army said. Security sources said the six-year lapse between the bombing and the response was due to operational reasons.

The army said the other two homes belonged to the families of Ahmed Hamuda, a Hamas gunman who killed three Israeli soldiers in a June attack on a Jewish settlement in the Gaza Strip and to Jihad Masri, also of Hamas, killed during an attack on a settlement in December last year.

Meanwhile, police in Jerusalem reversed a decision to close the city’s main sports stadium. The arena had been ordered closed Saturday amid a heightened security alert in the city and because there weren’t enough police to guard it. But police units were later freed up and a planned soccer game was to go ahead, a Jerusalem police spokeswoman said.

On the diplomatic front, Israel’s new Labor Party leader, Amram Mitzna, was sending a representative to Cairo for talks Sunday with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher in one of his first acts at the helm of Labor.

Palestinian Cabinet Minister Saeb Erekat also was due to meet with Maher in Cairo on Sunday. But Israeli and Palestinian officials dismissed speculation that Erekat would meet with Mitzna’s envoy, Labor lawmaker Yossi Katz.

Mitzna has won some praise among Palestinians for saying he would pull settlers and soldiers out of the Gaza Strip and would restart negotiations with the Palestinians if elected prime minister in Jan. 28 elections.

Polls indicate incumbent Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his Likud Party will win the vote. Sharon says all violence must stop before peace talks resume.

In violence Saturday, witnesses said several schoolchildren were walking about 700 yards from an Israeli army outpost at the Karni Crossing east of Gaza City when soldiers fired at them.

A 16-year-old boy died after he was hit in the abdomen and leg, hospital officials said. A second boy was hit with a bullet in the back, they said, and was hospitalized.

Military sources said soldiers fired warning shots in the air at the teens when they neared a border fence but didn’t think anyone was injured. They said an investigation was started after learning that someone had been killed.

The army said it has arrested 55 Palestinians suspected of militant activity over the past two weeks, including five senior leaders. Eight were planning to carry out suicide bombings, the army said.

Among the leaders arrested was Majid Masri, 28, head of the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades in the West Bank town of Nablus, who was nabbed Friday.

Masri, who also used the name Abu Mojahed, also was a spokesman in the West Bank for the group, which is linked to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement.

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