Three Palestinians killed as Israel steps up deadly Gaza offensive
GAZA CITY: Three Palestinians, including two children, were shot dead and nearly 20 wounded late on Wednesday as Israel stepped up a deadly campaign to end militant rocket attacks launched from the northern Gaza Strip.
As Israeli bolstered its forces in the northern town of Jabaliya, nine-year-old Mohammed Hisham Salem died after being hit by a bullet in the chest, Palestinian medical sources said. Family members identified him as a son of a senior member of the radical Islamic Jihad movement and said he was from Beit Lahiya, just north of Jabaliya. Minutes earlier, 17-year-old Wael Abul Jedyan also died after being hit in the chest by an Israeli bullet when soldiers opened fire from a tank.
Earlier in the day, Kassem al-Mutawaq, 18, was also shot dead by soldiers manning tanks inside the centre of Jabaliya, witnesses said. Hospital sources said a total of 25 Palestinians had been wounded during the Jabaliya raid. Twenty were suffering from gunshot wounds, seven of whom were said to be in serious condition. Five more were wounded when Israeli helicopter gunships launched two separate air raids in and around the small town.
An army spokesman said troops had opened fire from the ground and from an overflying helicopter on two separate groups of youths who were seen trying to set up and launch two Qassam rockets from the area. “Troops identified several hits,” he said, adding that at least one of the rockets had also been destroyed. But he denied that any missiles had been fired from a helicopter.
In reference to the earlier incident, he said soldiers had opened fire at three gunmen and hit one of them. Army chief of staff General Moshe Yaalon said troops would remain in the area as long as rocket attacks continued.
“As long as the Palestinians fire Qassam rocket towards Israeli areas, we will reinforce and enlarge our activities on the ground to not only prevent these attacks but also to strike the workshops and manufacturers,” he said.
Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz has given the army carte blanche to put an end to the firing of Qassam rockets after they caused the death of two Israelis in the southern Israeli town of Sderot in late June.
But so far the operation around Jabaliya and the nearby town of Beit Hanun has failed to end the strikes. Military radio said that 60 Qassams had been fired from northern Gaza since the start of the offensive, 42 of which landed in Israeli territory.
Further violence in the southern Gaza town of Rafah saw another Palestinian shot dead by Israeli forces and another three wounded, one seriously.
Jihad el-Bess, a 20-year-old civilian, was killed during an Israeli operation to uncover cross-border weapons smuggling tunnels, medical sources said. Troops in Rafah said they had discovered a 10-metre (33-foot) deep tunnel concealed underneath a house which was later demolished.
Wednesday’s violence raised the overall toll since the September 2000 start of the Palestinian intifada, or uprising, to 4,218 people killed, including 3,221 Palestinians and 926 Israelis.
Under terms of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s disengagement plan, Israel is due to completely withdraw from Gaza by the end of next year, but the territory has become increasingly volatile in recent weeks with armed groups vying for power ahead of the pullout. As a result of the violence and the recent intra-Palestinian clashes, the UN relief agency for Palestinian refugees (UNWRA) decided temporarily to move all international staff at its Gaza City headquarters to Amman.
“Faced with a further escalation in the level of insecurity faced by UNRWA staff, I have decided to relocate temporarily to Amman all remaining international staff working at UNRWA headquarters with the exception of my own office and that of the deputy commissioner-general,” UNRWA chief Peter Hansen said. The move would affect 19 staff, a spokesman said.
Meanwhile in Cairo, a Hamas delegation led by overall leader Khaled Meshaal was expected to meet Egyptian officials later on Wednesday to discuss an Egyptian plan to provide security in the Gaza Strip after the Israeli pullout.
Cairo has offered to send up to 200 police officers to train a 30,000-strong Palestinian force to maintain law and order after the withdrawal.
In other violence, a 29-year-old Palestinian civilian was shot dead during exchanges of fire between an Israeli undercover unit and Palestinian militants in the northern West Bank town of Nablus, security and medical sources said. Awad Hashash was shot in the head when the clashes broke out in central Nablus, the sources said. afp