Israelis kill 7 Arabs in Gaza attack

Sharon OKs new route for security barrier


JERUSALEM - Israeli forces continued a major operation in the Gaza Strip yesterday, using tanks and armored vehicles to suppress rocket fire into Israel, and killing seven Palestinians.

In the West Bank, Israeli troops killed another Palestinian.

Israeli officials continued to warn that they might exile Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, already confined to his headquarters in Ramallah. Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom echoed the warnings of the defense minister that "the day of Arafat's expulsion is closer than ever."

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon approved a new route for the barrier Israel is building to block suicide bombers that is much closer to the armistice line of 1949, known as the green line. The new route includes large Israeli settlements in the West Bank, such as Ariel, Maale Adumim and Gush Etzion.

Sharon appears to be responding to rulings by Israel's Supreme Court and pressure from Washington. Sharon's chief of staff, Dov Weissglas, is in Washington for meetings with U.S. officials about Israel's settlement policies and plans for disengagement from Gaza.

Yesterday, 185 Israelis published a petition in a religious newspaper calling the Gaza Strip withdrawal plan a "crime against humanity" and urging security forces to refuse to carry it out.

In the Gaza Strip, more than 30 people were wounded, hospital officials said. Among the dead was a 9-year-old boy, who was killed when a tank fired its machine gun toward a group of gunmen, stone throwers and bystanders in Beit Lahia, witnesses told the Reuters news agency.

The boy, Munir el-Deqqes, was shot in the chest while playing outside his grandfather's house, witnesses said. "Munir was a victim of blind Israeli retaliation," his uncle said. Two other Palestinians died.

An Israeli army spokesman, Capt. Jacob Dallal, said the army was investigating.

Dallal said Israeli forces had fired at "three different groups of armed gunmen, one with an anti-tank missile," and that the army had also uncovered and detonated a missile and a roadside bomb.

Near the Jabaliya refugee camp, Israeli helicopters fired at least two missiles, killing one gunman and wounding three others, while finding and dismantling two shops used to make primitive Kassam rockets.

The operation began Wednesday after Palestinians fired at least eight of the inaccurate Kassam rockets toward Sederot, a nearby Israeli town; only two reached Sederot but no one was hurt. Another was fired yesterday morning, the army said.

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