5 Killed, 40 Wounded in Mideast Clashes
Apr. 20, 2003
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) _ Dozens of Israeli tanks backed by attack helicopters pushed into the Rafah refugee camp Saturday, one of the largest military incursions into the Gaza Strip in 30 months of fighting, Palestinians said.
At least five Palestinians were killed, including a 15-year-old boy, doctors said. Witnesses said at least 40 people were wounded.
The incursion came as Palestinian leaders raced to meet a self-imposed deadline for a new Palestinian government _ a key requirement toward unveiling a U.S.-backed peace plan.
Also Saturday, a cameraman for Associated Press Television News was shot and killed while filming clashes in which 17 Palestinians were wounded in the West Bank city of Nablus.
The incursion appeared to have targeted the Yibna neighborhood, one of two known militant strongholds in Rafah.
Israeli forces penetrated the camp from three directions using more than 35 tanks and armored personnel carriers, bulldozers and jeeps. Five attack helicopters circled overhead, flashing spotlights.
``I was sitting outside with some friends playing cards when suddenly we came under fire,'' said Marwan Khatib, 39, who lives in the camp.
The Israeli military said soldiers destroyed two tunnels used for smuggling weapons under the Gaza-Egypt border and blew up the house of local Hamas leader Mahmoud Abu Shamala.
In a statement, the military said Palestinians attacked the Israelis with firearms, explosives and anti-tank rockets, and soldiers returning fire hit some of the gunmen. The Israelis pulled out before daybreak, the statement said.
The army knocked out electricity in part of the camp, witnesses said. Rafah Mayor Said Zourab said undercover soldiers raided homes and troops were in control of most of the camp.
Palestinians said ambulances could not enter the camp, and all the casualties arrived at the hospital in private vehicles.
Rafah has been a flashpoint of tensions between Israeli troops and Palestinians. British peace activist Tom Hurndall, 21, was allegedly shot in the head by Israeli troops in Rafah on April 11. He remained in serious condition Saturday.
Hurndall was a volunteer with the International Solidarity Movement, a Palestinian-backed group. The army has said it is investigating his shooting.
Another peace activist with the group _ Rachel Corrie of Olympia, Wash. _ died March 16 in Rafah trying to stop an Israeli bulldozer during a military incursion.
The operation in the refugee camp came hours after clashes in Nablus killed APTN cameraman Nazeh Darwazeh, 45, and wounded 17 others.
Doctors said Darwazeh died of a bullet wound to the head. Palestinian witnesses said he was shot by an Israeli soldier, while the military said there were exchanges of gunfire in the area and that it was not clear who was responsible for his death.
Darwazeh was filming clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinians in Nablus.
The army said it was in Nablus looking for a would-be female suicide bomber and her recruiter, who troops arrested. Another two would-be suicide bombers were arrested elsewhere Saturday in the West Bank.
Darwazeh had worked for APTN for two years and leaves a wife and five children.
In a separate incident Saturday night, a Palestinian gunman infiltrated the Jewish settlement of Shaked in the northern West Bank, wounding two soldiers and a civilian, military officials said. Soldiers shot and killed the gunman.
Also Saturday, efforts to form a new Palestinian government ran into problems when the prime minister-designate, Mahmoud Abbas, stormed out of a meeting with Yasser Arafat and top aides, a Palestinian official said.
Abbas and Arafat have been at odds over the role of former Gaza security chief Mohammed Dahlan, who had been tapped by Abbas as minister of state for internal affairs, a position that would have some control over security matters. Arafat has suggested retaining incumbent Hani al-Hassan, a longtime aide.
After about an hour of discussions, Abbas left the meeting and threatened to resign unless his choices were accepted, a senior Palestinian official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. But Abbas met later with lower-level Fatah officials.
President Bush has said a new Palestinian government must be in place before the unveiling of a U.S.-backed peace plan. The Palestinians have given themselves a deadline of Wednesday.
The U.S.-backed ``road map'' to peace calls for the gradual withdrawal of Israeli troops from the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the cessation of violence by Palestinian militants and the creation of a Palestinian state with provisional borders.