Thu, Aug 05, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Helicopters fire on Palestinian village


An Israeli helicopter yesterday fired a missile into a village in north Gaza where army forces have been trying to root out Palestinian militant rocket squads, but no casualties were reported, witnesses said.

The reported attack occurred in Tal al-Zatar village close to the town of Beit Hanoun, the scene of an open-ended Israeli incursion to suppress Hamas militants who have been firing crude rockets over the fenced border into nearby Israel.

Israeli military sources declined to confirm a missile strike but said army units were trying at the time to repulse an approaching group of armed militants.

Israeli tanks and infantry moved into the Beit Hanoun area a month ago and have razed farmland used by Hamas as cover for firing rockets. But the mobile-rocket squads have shifted positions and kept targeting the Israeli town of Sderot.

As a result, Israel expanded the incursion westward on Tuesday night to the edge of the large Jabalya refugee camp in the hope of driving the rocket squads out of range of Sderot.

The army push towards Jabalya triggered pre-dawn clashes with militants yesterday in which at least four Palestinians were wounded, Palestinian medics said.

Witnesses reported hearing heavy machine-gun fire from Israeli tanks and helicopters in the densely populated district.

They said Israeli bulldozers were moving in to flatten more property in what the army calls attempts to deprive militants of concealed firing points, but which Palestinians call collective punishment due to the extensive destruction left behind.

Sderot has been hit almost daily by the generally inaccurate Qassam rockets, but casualties have been few in number.

Hamas issued a videotape on Tuesday, broadcast by al-Arabiya satellite TV, in which it swore to keep raining rockets on Sderot unless Israel ended its 37-year occupation of Gaza.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon aims to evacuate Jewish settlers from occupied parts of Gaza next year under his "disengagement plan," but vows to crush militants first to prevent them claiming victory.

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