Mon, Oct 04, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Gaza campaign to expand, says Sharon

AP , GAZA CITY, GAZA STRIP

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said yesterday that Israel would expand the deadliest Gaza offensive in four years, keeping troops in the area indefinitely with the goal of stopping Palestinian rocket fire on Israeli towns.

Sharon said he was determined to halt rocket fire on towns inside Israel and shelling of Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip.

Israel poured 2,000 troops into the northern Gaza Strip after a Palestinian rocket attack on Wednesday killed two preschoolers in the town of Sderot. Since then, 54 Palestinians and three more Israelis have been killed.

In the Jebaliya refugee camp, the scene of the bloodiest fighting, troops and tanks pulled back a few dozens meters overnight yesterday, leaving behind a swathe of destruction.

Bulldozers destroyed rows of homes, uprooted orchards and tore up roads. UN officials said dozens of people were made homeless.

"It is necessary to bring about a complete end to the firing of rockets on Sderot and other towns that border the Gaza Strip. The current situation cannot continue," Sharon told Israel Radio.

"We have to expand ... the areas of operation in order to get the rocket launchers out of the range of Israeli towns," he added.

Currently, the homemade, low-explosive rockets the Palestinians manufacture have a range of about 9km. But on Saturday, Hamas militants threatened to strike the Israeli city of Ashkelon, 15km from Gaza.

Sharon brushed off the Hamas threats, but told Israel's Army Radio the operation "is not a short thing. The forces will have to remain there as long as this danger exists."

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