2 Palestinians Die in Israeli Operation
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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, Palestinians said Sunday.
Late Saturday, Israeli forces backed by about 30 tanks rolled into the Gaza Strip town of Beit Lahiya, about 5 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 a 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 the elderly Dab did not have time to flee his home before the demolition.
An army spokesman, Capt. Jacob Dallal, said soldiers routinely perform ``a lengthy procedure″ to make sure that homes are vacant before they are demolished.
``The soldiers call on loudspreakers for people to leave, the building is thorougly searched, and then there is a final call for people to leave,″ he said. ``This whole procedure takes time, over two to three hours.″
The army said its forces 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 torn down in the operation, the army said. The army did not say why it struck the house six years after the attack.
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.
Also in Gaza, two Israeli helicopters fired missiles Sunday that hit a car on the outskirts of Gaza City, but the two Palestinians occupants managed to escape just seconds before the missiles hit the Mercedes sedan near the Jebaliya refugee camp, witnesses said.
The people inside the car got out and ran away after the back of the car was hit by the first of three missiles, the witnesses said. Two people in another car were lightly hurt, the witnesses added.
The Israeli military said it was checking the report. Israel has carried out dozens of attacks aimed at suspected Palestinian militants since the current round of fighting broke out in September 2000.
Meanwhile, police in Jerusalem reversed a decision to close the city’s main sports stadium and cancel a soccer game in response to a threatened attack.
The stadium was 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 game was to go ahead Sunday evening, Jerusalem police 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.