Strikes by Israel kill 7 Palestinian fighters

Stepped-up effort targets rocket fire

October 15, 2006|By New York Times News Service

JERUSALEM --The Israeli military killed seven Palestinian militants in fighting early yesterday as tanks and other armored vehicles rolled into areas east of Gaza City in a stepped-up effort to halt Palestinian rocket fire.

Backed by helicopters and pilotless planes, Israeli troops have staged ground operations in eastern Gaza over the past three days, killing 20 Palestinians and wounding about 30. Most of the dead were Hamas militants targeted in airstrikes, but several civilians also died.

The incursion appears to be yet another in a series of periodic escalations since an Israeli soldier was seized June 25 and Israeli forces, which withdrew from the territory last year, moved back into Gaza.

The Israelis have concentrated their forces in open areas in the southeast corner of Gaza over the past several months. They have carried out frequent offensives, and since Thursday they have been moving into more populated areas, looking for smuggling tunnels and trying to stop the rocket fire, according to the military.

In recent weeks, Israeli political and security officials warned that they were prepared to respond more aggressively to the continuing Palestinian rocket fire out of Gaza. Israeli radio reported yesterday that Defense Minister Amir Peretz had approved broader operations but provided no additional details.

Palestinian militants have been firing rockets from Gaza into southern Israel for more than five years, and the attacks continued after the Israeli withdrawal last year. The rockets have caused damage and injuries in many instances, though deaths have been rare.

Ghazi Hamad, a spokesman for the Palestinian Authority government, accused Israel yesterday of "going ahead with evil plans for a bloody military escalation and seeking the highest possible Palestinian losses."

The latest incursion started after Palestinian militants fired three rockets from northeastern Gaza on Friday night and lightly wounded three Israelis in the town of Sderot, which is just beyond Gaza's perimeter fence.

Shortly afterward, more than a dozen Israeli armored vehicles charged into the areas where the rockets were launched, and ground clashes erupted. The Israeli forces came under fire from automatic rifles and at least one antitank missile, the military said.

An Israeli airstrike killed four Hamas militants taking cover in a house, according to the military and Palestinian medical workers.

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