Wed, May 19, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Israeli forces kill 13 in Gaza

REUTERS , RAFAH, GAZA STRIP

An old Palestinian man rests in the street next to destroyed houses at the Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip on Monday. Panicked Palestinians fled their homes in Gaza as Israeli forces massed for an assault.

PHOTO: REUTERS

Israeli forces killed 13 Palestinians in Gaza's Rafah refugee camp early yesterday as tanks and infantry thrust into the militant stronghold despite an international outcry.

The raid, one of the biggest since the start of a Palestinian uprising in 2000, drew international condemnation because of Israeli threats to destroy hundreds of Palestinian houses in the occupied territory.

But the army said there were no plans for any systematic demolition during what it called an open-ended operation to stop the smuggling of weapons through tunnels from Egypt.

"When the fighting is over, most of the residents will almost certainly return to their homes," said Colonel Pinky Zuaretz, a field commander.

Under cover of darkness, troops fanned out into Rafah's Tel al-Sultan neighborhood, taking vantage points in bullet-pocked buildings as soldiers searched house-to-house for militants and fought Palestinian gunmen.

Israel had amassed more forces in Gaza than since capturing it in the 1967 Middle East war, commentators said, for a raid launched after militants killed 13 soldiers there last week.

Helicopter gunships killed seven Palestinians, at least three of them gunmen. The identities of the others were unclear.

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