Fri, Jul 02, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Israeli defense forces raid Gaza, nine-year-old slain

DPA AND REUTERS , JERICHO AND RAFAH, GAZA STRIP

Israeli soldiers drive a tank to the Palestinian town of Beit Hanouna through the border between the Israeli village of Alumim and the Palestinian town of Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza strip yesterday.

PHOTO: AP

Israeli forces shot dead a 9-year-old Palestinian boy playing soccer in a Gaza refugee camp yesterday as tanks rolled in to search for tunnels used by militants, witnesses said.

"We were playing soccer when Israeli tanks ... started firing inside the camp and towards us," said Bashir Abu Jlidan, 18, a resident of Rafah refugee camp.

He said Omar Zara'an, 9, fell to the ground bleeding. Doctors at Rafah hospital pronounced the boy dead after trying to revive him.

The Israeli army had no immediate comment on the child's death. It said Israeli forces were on a mission in Rafah, which borders Egypt, to root out tunnels militants use to smuggle in weapons or place explosives underneath army positions.

Rafah residents said 15 Israeli tanks and other armored vehicles backed by helicopters rumbled into Rafah's Brazil neighbourhood while firing machineguns.

The army besieged Rafah for six days in May, killing 42 Palestinians and leaving hundreds homeless after militants killed 13 soldiers in a string of ambushes.

In the West Bank, Israeli forces mounted a rare raid into the town of Jericho. The army said it detained 30 wanted Palestinians and found weaponry including rifles and grenades.

Shots were heard as troops and tanks took up positions in the city centre and declared a curfew.

Jericho has been fairly quiet through most of the four years since the uprising began.

Witnesses in the ancient town, which has been largely untouched by nearly four years of Israeli-Palestinian violence, said troops pulled out after blowing up two flats and a house.

"This is a dangerous escalation by Israel," said Palestinian Negotiations Minister Saeb Erekat, a Jericho resident.

Residents of Nablus, also in the West Bank, said troops moved again into its casbah, or old town, closing its entrances and taking over a number of houses in a search for militants.

In a casbah operation last week, soldiers killed the West Bank commander of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a militant group within Palestinian President Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement.

In the northern Gaza Strip, witnesses said Israeli forces moved further into the town of Beit Hanoun, seized on Tuesday a day after rockets fired from the area killed a 3-year-old boy and a man, aged 49, in Sderot in neighboring southern Israel.

They were the first in Israel to be killed by a rocket attack from Gaza since a Palestinian revolt began in 2000.

Army bulldozers, clearing areas where rocket squads could find cover, razed olive groves and orchards inside Beit Hanoun. An Israeli military source said on Wednesday troops could remain there for months to prevent militants from launching rockets.

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