Israeli troops kill 5 Palestinians in Gaza
* Palestinian protesters teargassed at barrier site
* Sharon lobbies support for Gaza pullout
GAZA: Israeli troops killed three Palestinian militants and two bystanders in a Gaza Strip raid that sparked clashes with gunmen, witnesses and medics said on Sunday.
The Israeli army confirmed its forces stormed Abassan village before dawn, saying they were hunting for militants. Among the dead was Salem Qudeh, a senior member of Islamic militant group Hamas, and his 34-year-old wife Sana’a. The army said troops had fired on a Hamas man who ignored orders to stop and fled with a woman in tow. “He was shot and blew up, perhaps because he was wearing a bomb belt. We believe the woman was also hurt in the blast,” an army spokesman said, adding troops had reported shooting two other militants. Medics said there was blast damage to the Qudehs’ bodies.
Hospital sources in Khan Yunis said that 10 people had been wounded during armed clashes which witnesses said had broken out during the arrest operation. Two houses were also demolished during the raid, they added. An army statement said soldiers destroyed three structures in the compound, including Qudeh’s house and a workshop where militants allegedly made rockets, mortars and missiles.
Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat condemned the raid. “At a time when everyone is concentrating on disengagement from Gaza, the Israeli army is actually re-engaging and reoccupying Gaza,” he said.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon met with the Likud ministers after the weekly meeting of the full Cabinet. Sharon met opposition from ministers of his Likud party to his plans to withdraw from Gaza Strip. Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the meeting he could only support the pullout if it was attached to a raft of conditions.
Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz told the cabinet that the defence establishment considers Hamas a strategic threat and is preparing a programme to strike hard at the movement, a Defence Ministry official said. Sharon’s “disengagement plan” would include dismantling nearly all Israeli settlements in Gaza and a handful in the West Bank, while imposing a boundary on Palestinians.
Sharon, who has released few specifics of his plan, says he wants to reduce friction by separating Israelis from Palestinians.
Also Sunday, five people were hospitalised after Israeli troops used tear gas and steel-cored rubber bullets to disperse about 1,000 demonstrators near a barrier Israel is building in the West Bank, Palestinian hospital officials said.
Huge mechanical excavators levelled land at the village, near the Palestinian city of Ramallah, as local farmers, school children and their supporters protested against construction of a new section of razor wire-tipped fence.
A Palestinian, wounded in a clash with Israel earlier this month, died in a Gaza hospital Sunday, doctors said.
On Saturday, the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, a militant group linked to Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement, offered an unusual apology for mistakenly killing an Arab college student in a drive-by shooting in a Jewish neighbourhood of Jerusalem, calling his family to share their condolences and declaring him a “martyr”. The attackers shot George Khoury, 21, the son of a prominent Arab attorney, as he was jogging on Friday night.
“Terrorism is blind, it does not discriminate between Jews and Arabs or between the good and the bad,” his father, Elias Khoury, told Army Radio on Sunday. —Agencies