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At Least 10 Palestinians Killed in Gaza Strip Raid

Mideast: Israeli tanks and combat helicopters attack in a 'pinpoint' operation 'against terrorist infrastructure,' the army says.


JERUSALEM — At least 10 Palestinians were killed and scores wounded early today when Israeli tanks and armored vehicles backed by combat helicopters raided a Gaza Strip neighborhood, witnesses and officials said.

The Israeli forces shelled buildings and traded fire with Palestinian gunmen in the town of Khan Yunis until withdrawing about four hours after the incursion began, residents said.

The dead included a 50-year-old woman whose house was destroyed by Israeli tank fire, hospital officials said. More than 70 people were reported wounded.

Most of the deaths and injuries occurred when an Israeli helicopter launched a missile toward a crowd of people--civilians and militants-- who ventured from their homes around dawn when the tanks appeared to be withdrawing, witnesses said.

Haider Kidra, director of the Nasser Hospital in Khan Yunis, confirmed at least 10 dead, with several of the wounded in critical condition. He said a boy who looked about 10 years old was among the dead whose ripped bodies were rushed to the hospital.

The action against the crowded city of Khan Yunis took place on two fronts: one column of armor roared into the city's industrial Amal neighborhood while a second invaded a refugee camp on Khan Yunis' western outskirts.

The Israeli army confirmed that a "pinpoint" operation was in progress in Gaza "against terrorist infrastructure" but declined further comment. Khan Yunis is a stronghold for the radical Islamic Hamas organization, and previous Israeli forays into Gazan neighborhoods have been carried out to kill Hamas militants or to destroy metalworks factories that the army contends are used to produce mortars and other weapons.

Hamas has been responsible for many of the suicide bombings that have terrorized Israel. Before this morning's raid, Palestinian militants had fired a rocket at a Jewish settlement in Gaza; no injuries were reported.

Jawad Tibi, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council who lives in Khan Yunis, told the Associated Press that a missile fired by a helicopter slammed into a three-story apartment building. Three people were wounded and an ambulance attempting to evacuate them came under gunfire, he said.

Earlier Sunday, two Palestinians were killed in separate incidents in the West Bank.

The army said it killed a member of the Islamic Jihad movement in the Jenin refugee camp after he opened fire. And a Palestinian farmer was shot in the back while picking olives. Residents said he was killed by Jewish settlers, who human rights organizations say have been harassing Palestinian farmers in recent days as the olive harvest gets underway. The Israeli police said they were investigating the shooting.

The killings came as European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana met Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres in a fresh bid to end Israeli-Palestinian violence. No information emerged from the talks.

Solana was due to meet Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat today. Arafat's security advisor Mohammed Dahlan told reporters after talks with Solana in Gaza that the EU official and Arafat would "review the steps Israel has taken to destroy peace efforts and the ongoing attacks on the Palestinian people."

Ben-Eliezer criticized contacts between the European Union and Arafat as a "waste of time" and accused the Palestinian leader of doing "everything in order to block this process" of reforming the Palestinian Authority.

Solana said before arriving in the region Saturday that he would emphasize the need for Israelis and Palestinians to resume peace talks stalled since 2000 and push forward a new plan from the "quartet" of U.N., U.S., Russian and EU mediators.

In September, the quartet outlined a peace plan demanding that Palestinians reform their governing authority and that Israel withdraw troops from West Bank cities, aiming at a final peace settlement in three years.

U.S. Middle East envoy William Burns is to follow Solana to the region.

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