Israeli tanks, planes strike Gaza

6 Palestinians killed

move could weaken new Mideast talks

December 12, 2007|By Los Angeles Times

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- Israeli armored forces backed by aircraft thrust into the southern Gaza Strip yesterday, killing five Palestinians a day before Israeli and Palestinian negotiators were to begin laying the groundwork for peace talks. Another Palestinian was killed in an airstrike.

Israeli army officials described the operation as a routine action against Gaza-based militants who fire rockets across the border into Israel. Palestinian officials said the incursion could undermine the talks before they start.

Palestinian witnesses said 30 armored vehicles moved into the area between Khan Yunis and Rafah. An Israeli army spokesman said "a few" tanks took part.

Two Islamic Jihad militants and an unidentified man died when Israeli fire struck a house in southern Gaza, Palestinian officials said. A member of Hamas' military wing died in another clash, and a commander of the Popular Resistance Committees was killed later in the day. Four Israeli soldiers suffered minor injuries. In a separate encounter, an Israeli airstrike killed an Islamic Jihad fighter in Beit Hanoun, in northern Gaza.

Palestinians said Israeli troops had taken positions two miles inside Gaza, which would be the military's deepest penetration since Hamas took control of the coastal strip in June. The Israeli army spokesman said troops moved less than a mile into Gaza.

Israel has carried out limited incursions and numerous airstrikes along the edges of Gaza, from which militants have fired more than 2,000 rockets and mortar rounds into Israel since Jan. 1. Israeli defense officials drew up plans to reduce the flow of Israeli-generated electricity into Gaza in response to the persistent rocket attacks, but they held off this month after the nation's Supreme Court asked for a fuller explanation of how the action would avoid harming civilians.

Hawkish Israeli politicians have urged a broad military offensive to target rocket teams and a stockpile of smuggled arms that Israeli intelligence officials say is increasingly potent and of longer range.

Nabil abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, said Israel's military actions yesterday were aimed at "thwarting and obstructing" the planned peace talks today in Jerusalem.

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