Israeli troops kill 4 amid effort to stem Gaza rockets

About 20 Palestinians wounded near Jabaliya

August 05, 2004|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

JERUSALEM - Israeli forces shot and killed four young Palestinians in running clashes yesterday as the military expanded operations in the northern Gaza Strip to try to prevent rocket attacks being mounted from the area, Palestinian and Israeli officials said.

Israeli soldiers moved into Beit Hanoun more than a month ago in response to the persistent Palestinian rocket attacks, many of them coming from militants hiding in orange and olive groves. But the attacks have continued.

Soldiers in tanks and armored vehicles advanced yesterday to the outskirts of the crowded Jabaliya refugee camp, setting off several rounds of fighting in which three Palestinians were killed, according to the staff at Kamal Adwan Hospital.

Among the dead was a boy about 10 years old, hospital staff members said. Two others were 17 and 18, the staff said. About 20 Palestinians were wounded in the Jabaliya area, the hospital added.

Israeli military officials said ground forces and a helicopter gunship fired on armed Palestinians and reported hitting them at least three times. In one instance, the soldiers fired on Palestinians setting up a rocket launcher, the officials said.

The army's chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon, told Israeli television that the military might continue pushing into northern Gaza if the rocket attacks do not stop. If the effort does not provide security for the Israeli village of Sederot, he said, "we will be forced to widen and deepen" the operation.

The Palestinian rockets have a range of about five miles, contain a small explosive charge and are inaccurate, but they are an ever-present threat to residents of Sederot, and Israel decided on a large-scale response after rockets killed two Israelis in late June.

Hamas, the Palestinian militant faction, had been firing the rockets for the past few years, but the June incident was the first such attack in which Israelis were killed.

Also yesterday, a 20-year-old Palestinian was killed by Israeli forces in Rafah, at the southern end of Gaza, hospital officials said.

The Israeli military also said it had found and destroyed a tunnel in Rafah. The tunnels are used to smuggle arms from Egypt, the military said.

Yesterday also was the 75th birthday of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who has been confined to his damaged compound in the West Bank city of Ramallah for about two years. Arafat did not make any public appearances, and there were no reports of celebrations.

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