Tanks roll into Gaza City; Israel braces for revenge attacks

Friday, July 26, 2002

JERUSALEM -- Israeli tanks rolled into Gaza City early Friday and destroyed a police post and two other buildings, the first operation there since a bombing attack killed a Hamas leader and 14 other Palestinians and drew international criticism.

Witnesses said seven tanks accompanied a bulldozer that flattened a small Palestinian military intelligence position and a metal workshop, and then soldiers blew up another workshop in a blast that could be heard all over the city.

Gunmen fired at the Israelis, and two Palestinians were wounded in the exchange, they said.

The Israeli military refused to comment. Hours earlier, a rocket hit an Israeli village just outside Gaza, causing some damage but no casualties. In the past, the Israeli military has destroyed metal workshops in Gaza, explaining that Palestinians were making mortars, rockets and shells.

The move into Gaza City came hours after Palestinian gunmen killed a rabbi and wounded another Israeli in a roadside ambush near a Jewish settlement on Thursday.

Resuming peace talks

Despite the violence, tentative efforts were under way to restart talks among Palestinian factions toward stopping attacks against Israel. Palestinians said the Israeli bombing sabotaged plans for a unilateral truce declaration by one or more Palestinian groups.

Palestinian and Israeli officials were to meet Friday to discuss easing Israeli restrictions in the West Bank, where Israeli forces have controlled seven of the eight main cities and towns since last month.

Israeli officials continued to justify the air strike Tuesday that killed Hamas commander Salah Shehadeh, while apologizing for the civilian casualties. But international denunciations continued.

Calling the Israeli attack "abominable," Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak charged that Israel's goal was to sabotage cease-fire efforts. Mubarak was speaking in Paris.

Weapons scrutinized

In Washington, Secretary of State Colin Powell said the Bush administration is reviewing Israel's use of U.S.-made weapons in the wake of the air strike. Israel had no comment, but an official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Israel was receiving no special treatment and had nothing to hide.

Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said Thursday that Israel called off strikes against Shehadeh several times after learning that civilians were with him.

Last Saturday night, "the plane was in the air" with the bomb when Israel discovered that one of Shehadeh's seven daughters was with him, and the strike was called off, Ben-Eliezer said.

However, Shehadeh's 14-year-old daughter Iman was killed in Tuesday's strike, along with Shehadeh, his wife, a bodyguard and 11 other people, most of them children in adjoining buildings.

Addressing the Labor Party that he leads, Ben-Eliezer defended the decision to kill Shehadeh, commander of the Hamas military wing known as Izzadine al-Qassam, which is responsible for hundreds of attacks against Israelis.

Ben-Eliezer claimed Shehadeh was planning a "mega-terror" attack inside Israel, "perhaps the biggest Israel has ever seen, a truck with a ton of explosives that was intended to shock the people of Israel and cause hundreds, hundreds of dead."

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