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One killed, 4 hurt as Israeli tanks move into Gaza City

©Associated Press

February 17, 2003


GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- Israeli tanks entered Gaza City early today and headed for a neighborhood where leaders of the violent Islamic militant group Hamas live, witnesses said.

A Palestinian police officer was killed and four civilians, including a doctor, were wounded by Israeli gunfire, hospital officials said.

It was the first time Israeli forces moved on the Sheikh Radwan neighborhood in northern Gaza City. The incursion came after an explosion in northern Gaza killed four Israeli soldiers when their tank set off a huge bomb Saturday. Hamas claimed responsibility.

Early today, witnesses said about 35 tanks, accompanied by attack helicopters, moved into position around a five-story building in Gaza City where Ahmed Ghandour and his family live and blew it up. Palestinians said Ghandour is the top aide to Hamas bombmaker Adnan al-Roul, believed responsible for planning the attack on the tank.

Two Palestinians were wounded slightly by Israeli gunfire, hospital officials said.

Israeli military sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said an operation was under way in Gaza City but it was not a large-scale invasion.

Witnesses said that after surrounding the building, soldiers ordered everyone out and took the men away. Then soldiers sent dogs inside to see if anyone was left behind.

Israel has been blowing up the houses of suspected militants for several months as a deterrent measure. Palestinians and human rights groups charge that innocent relatives are made to suffer, but the Israelis believe that might give militants second thoughts about carrying out attacks.

After the tank bombing, Israeli leaders pledged to hit the Hamas infrastructure in Gaza.

Among the Hamas leaders who live in the Sheik Radwan neighborhood are Abdel Azziz Rantisi and Ismail Haniyeh, who often speak for the Islamic group. Spiritual leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin lives in another part of the city of 300,000 Palestinians.

On Sunday, nine Palestinians were killed: six in a mysterious explosion in Gaza and three by Israeli army fire in the West Bank.

In Gaza City, a blast tore through the home of a member of the Islamic militant group Hamas, killing six Palestinians and wounding three, witnesses and hospital officials said. The six killed were Hamas members, the group said in a statement.

The cause of the blast was not immediately known. In the past, explosions have occurred when Palestinian militants mishandled bombs. A Hamas official said the explosion was in a car. After keeping reporters away for more than an hour, Hamas showed them the damaged car.

Hamas said the militants were examining a small, remote-controlled plane to be used in an attack against Israel when it exploded. The group said Israel detonated explosives that were planted in the plane.

Hamas spokesman Ismail Haniyeh blamed Israel.

"The Israeli enemy used a unique technology which caused this massacre," he said, without giving details.

There was, however, no evidence that the explosion was caused by Israel, although Israeli officials have said they would react to a Gaza roadside bombing, claimed by Hamas, that blew up a tank and killed its four-man crew Saturday.

Those killed in Sunday's blast included Nidal Farhat, a Hamas militant who was instrumental in designing a rocket used in attacks against Israel, Hamas officials said.

In the West Bank city of Nablus, three Palestinians were killed and about two dozen wounded by army fire in a clash between soldiers and Palestinian gunmen and stone-throwers, Palestinian security officials said. One of the wounded was comatose and on life support, hospital officials added.

The army said Palestinians shot at troops who were arresting Tayseer Khaled, a senior PLO member. The soldiers returned fire, hitting what the military described as "two terrorists." A military spokeswoman said she had no knowledge of additional Palestinian casualties.

Also on Sunday, Palestinian and Israeli officials prepared to send teams to London for a new international effort to end 29 months of Mideast violence.

The groups are to participate in three days of talks in London this week, starting Tuesday. Palestinian officials will meet with international donors and diplomats monitoring Palestinian reform as well as British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw on Thursday.

Also Sunday . . .

ETHIOPIANS TO BE ADMITTED: The Cabinet voted to allow about 17,000 Ethiopians with Jewish roots to come to Israel, lifting immigration restrictions on the group known as Falash Mura. About 80,000 Ethiopian Jews live in Israel; many of them came in huge Israeli airlifts during crises in Ethiopia in 1984 and 1991.

JERUSALEM MAYOR: An ultra-Orthodox Jew will become mayor of Jerusalem for the first time after the incumbent said he will resign. Uri Lopolianski of the ultra-Orthodox Agudat Israel party will replace Ehud Olmert as mayor after Olmert said he would resign today and return to Parliament.

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