Israeli forces pursue militants in Gaza

Sunday, December 16, 2001

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- Israeli troops searching for militants flattened houses and security buildings in the Gaza Strip on Saturday and briefly took over part of a Palestinian town, setting up tents outside a girls' high school. Five Palestinians were killed, more than 50 hurt and 15 arrested, witnesses and officials said.

Israeli tanks and armored vehicles entered the town of Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza before dawn but pulled out in the evening. Israel has been moving deep into Palestinian areas in recent days, accusing Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat of failing to act against militants.

Israeli forces also moved into a Palestinian area in southern Gaza, near the border with Egypt. No Israeli soldiers were reported wounded in either action.

In Washington, the State Department said U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni, who has tried unsuccessfully to broker a truce for three weeks, would return to Washington for consultations.

At the United Nations, the United States vetoed a Palestinian-backed Security Council resolution that condemned terror acts on both sides and called for a Mideast truce overseen by international monitors. The Americans said the measure was aimed at isolating Israel politically.

Hanan Ashrawi, a prominent Palestinian spokeswoman, said the U.S. veto was effectively giving Israel "a free hand to attack Palestinians -- defenseless, captive, besieged Palestinians."

The Israelis described Beit Hanoun, at the edge of Israel's own territory, as a stronghold for militants.

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