5 Palestinians killed, 10 wounded in Israeli raid in the Gaza Strip

Sharon seeks support for troop, settler pullout

March 22, 2004|By Ken Ellingwood | Ken Ellingwood,LOS ANGELES TIMES

JERUSALEM - An Israeli military incursion in the Gaza Strip left five Palestinians dead and about 10 others wounded yesterday, as Prime Minister Ariel Sharon met with his party's Cabinet members to seek support for withdrawing Jewish settlers and troops from the coastal strip.

The pre-dawn raid in the village of Abasan al-Kabeira in the southern Gaza Strip claimed a member of the Hamas militant group who was sought by Israel. Israeli officials said that during the shootout, soldiers' gunfire detonated a bag of explosives carried by the suspect, identified as Basem Kadeh. The blast also killed his wife.

Kadeh was responsible for building rockets and mortars used in attacks against Jewish settlements and army outposts in the Gaza Strip, according to the Israelis.

The army said two other Palestinian fighters also were killed in the clash. The dead included a bystander. The army demolished Kadeh's house before withdrawing five hours later.

Last week, Israeli leaders announced a stepped-up offensive against militants after two suicide bombers from the Gaza Strip detonated themselves at the Israeli port of Ashdod, killing 10 workers.

But Israeli's military said yesterday it was loosening restrictions by allowing Palestinian workers in Gaza Strip to cross into Israel to work. Palestinians were barred from entering Israel after the seaport bombing.

Israeli officials characterize the raids as needed to break up violent militant groups, but Palestinian leaders again accused Israel yesterday of escalating violence in the Gaza Strip even as it considers a pullout. The Palestinian public security director, Abdel Razeq al-Majayda, called upon the international community to rein in what he described as Israeli aggression there.

The early-morning raid marked the latest spasm of violence in the Gaza Strip in the weeks since Sharon proposed withdrawing to reduce friction with the Palestinians and relieve the army of defending the 21 Jewish settlements there.

Though Sharon hasn't detailed his plan, the idea of evacuating most or all of the Gaza Strip settlements - as well as some in the West Bank - has prompted fierce resistance inside his Likud Party and among rightist allies.

Opponents in Likud hope to sink the proposal in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, while two right-wing parties have threatened to leave Sharon's governing coalition if he proceeds with the withdrawal.

The proposal is part of Sharon's so-called disengagement plan, under which Israel would abandon certain settlements and fall back to a "security line" - a provisional boundary with the Palestinians - if peace negotiations under the U.S.-backed "road map" remain stalled.

Yesterday's meeting was billed as a chance for Likud Cabinet ministers to air their views on the idea, though several had already made plain their opposition.

"I'm asking myself what happened over the past year which led to such a change in government policy," Agriculture Minister Yisrael Katz said on Israel Radio before the meeting.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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