6 killed as Israelis take Gaza town

Associated Press

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Israeli troops searching for militants flattened houses and security buildings Saturday and temporarily took over part of a Palestinian town in the northern Gaza Strip. Overall, six Palestinians were killed, more than 50 were hurt and 15 were arrested, officials said.

The temporary takeover was aimed at restraining Palestinian militants in Gaza who had been firing mortars at Israeli targets. But shortly after the Israelis pulled out of the town of Beit Hanoun on Saturday night, Palestinian mortar fire resumed, the army said.

Israel sent helicopters into the area early today, firing several rockets and damaging at least two Palestinian police offices near Beit Hanoun. The buildings had been evacuated and no injuries were reported.

Israeli tanks and bulldozers also took up positions around the Palestinian town of Tamun and two other nearby villages north of the West Bank city of Nablus, Palestinians said. The army said it was carrying out operations in the area in order to block the path of Palestinian militants into Israel.

Saying Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has failed to act against militants, Israel has been moving deep into Palestinian areas in recent days. No Israeli soldiers were reported wounded.

The Israelis described Beit Hanoun, at the edge of Israel’s own territory, as a stronghold for militants. As the Israeli armor moved in, soldiers with loudspeakers announced that the town was under curfew.

Hundreds of Palestinian youths threw stones at the advancing Israeli forces and set tires ablaze. The confrontations quickly escalated into shooting exchanges between Palestinian security forces and Israeli troops.

Four Palestinians were killed by Israeli gunfire, including a 12-year-old boy and a police officer, according to witnesses and Shifa Hospital officials in nearby Gaza City.

Overall, more than 50 Palestinians were injured, doctors said. The Israeli military said 15 Palestinians were arrested.

The Israelis demolished five houses, three security offices and a headquarters of Arafat’s Fatah movement. One of the houses belonged to Salah Shahed, the founder of the armed wing of the militant group Hamas, but witnesses said he was not in the area at the time.

Israeli forces moved onto the grounds of the Beit Hanoun Secondary Girls’ School, briefly putting up tents in the yard and raising an Israeli flag atop one building, witnesses added.

"We did not carry out this operation thinking it will put a complete stop to terror, but it definitely damaged the effectiveness," said Brig. Gen. Israel Ziv, the Israeli commander for Gaza. If the Palestinian Authority does not wage an "obvious fight against terror, we will have no choice but to continue these operations."

An explosion near the border between Israel and the West Bank town of Tulkarem killed one Palestinian on Saturday night, the army said. The army said the explosion apparently was caused by a Palestinian suicide bomber whose charge exploded prematurely as he tried to enter Israel. The man was a member of the militant Islamic Jihad group, Palestinians said.

At the southern end of Gaza, a Palestinian militant carrying grenades attempted to cut a fence and enter the Jewish settlement of Gush Katif but was shot dead by the Israeli military, the army said.

Afterward, Israeli tanks moved several hundred yards into Palestinian territory on the fringes of nearby Rafah, Palestinians said.

Copyright ©2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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