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May 2003 • Vol 3, No. 5 •

Eight Palestinians Killed in Israeli Raid on Gaza

By Nedal al-Mughrabi

Eight Palestinians, including a two-year-old boy, were killed on Thursday when Israeli forces thrust into a Gaza neighborhood to detain wanted militants shortly after the release of a Middle East peace “road map.”

The tank and infantry raid sent a strong signal to a “Quartet” of U.S.-led mediators and to the new Palestinian government that Israel would press ahead with such operations despite the new proposal to end 31 months of bloodshed.

Residents of the Shijaia neighborhood outside Gaza City said the Israeli tank and infantry force backed by helicopter gunships laid siege to the family home of a militant from the Islamic group Hamas. Soldiers called on those inside to leave.

Hamas and an armed offshoot of the Fatah faction of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat and new reformist Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas claimed responsibility for a Tel Aviv suicide bombing that killed three people on Wednesday.

The Palestinian Authority condemned the night-time Gaza incursion as an “Israeli crime” aimed at wrecking the peace plan presented on Wednesday by the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia and rejected by Palestinian militants.

Israeli officials say they will not change the way they confront an uprising for statehood until the Palestinians show they are cracking down on militants as required by the road map.

Witnesses in Shijaia reported heavy fighting between soldiers and gunmen and said tanks fired shells at the besieged home of Hamas militant Youssef Abu Heen. They said helicopters launched missiles at positions apparently held by gunmen.

“Our activity is focused on one house where the wanted Hamas men we came to arrest have holed up,” an Israeli military source said. “The other tenants have left and as far as we know the only people remaining are the Hamas members.”

In a statement, Hamas said: “We are using a legitimate weapon to confront the Zionist aggression—the weapon of resistance—and it will not be dropped as long as occupation exists.”

Toddler shot dead

Ahmed Ayyad, a blacksmith, said his two-year-old son, Amir, was killed by a bullet to the head as the toddler stood near a window facing Israeli troops.

“I could not help him,” Ayyad said, choking back tears at the local morgue. “What road map? It is nonsense...the Israelis do not want peace—you can ask my son.”

Seven other Palestinians, among them at least three civilians, were killed during the gun battle and more than 65 were wounded, witnesses and hospital officials said.

The Israeli military source said eight soldiers were wounded. Earlier in the West Bank, two Palestinian gunmen were killed in a clash with Israeli soldiers near the village of Yatta, residents said.

At least 2,029 Palestinians and 737 Israelis have been killed in the conflict that erupted in September 2000.

The peace proposal calls for a series of confidence-building steps, including a halt to Palestinian violence and the suspension of Israeli settlement building on occupied land, leading to the establishment of a Palestinian state by 2005.

Hamas and other militant groups have vowed to keep up a campaign of suicide bombings in defiance of Abbas, a moderate who took office on Wednesday following months of U.S. efforts to sideline Arafat.

Palestinian cabinet minister Saeb Erekat urged the Quartet group to put the plan in motion.

“We strongly condemn the Israeli crime that was committed only hours after the Israeli government received the road map,” Erekat told Reuters. “Is this their response—to kill innocents and children, the youngest only two years old?”

Israel said Secretary of State Colin Powell was expected to arrive for talks on the road map on May 8. Palestinian officials said Powell would meet Abbas but not Arafat, who Washington says is an obstacle to peace. Arafat denies fomenting violence.

The European Union said on Thursday its foreign policy chief Javier Solana would leave on May 11 for a week-long visit to the Middle East. “This is an effort to try to move things forward for implementation of the road map,” an EU spokeswoman said.

Israeli security authorities said Wednesday’s bombing in a blues club on Tel Aviv’s beachfront promenade was carried out by a British Muslim they identified as Asif Mohammed Hanif, 21.

Hanif’s brother told Britain’s Sun tabloid: “He was just a big teddy bear—that’s what people said about him...If he did do that, it was wrong, but I can’t believe it.”

A second Briton was to have blown himself up too, but he dropped his explosive device and fled, security officials said.






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