Israeli Tanks and Bulldozers in Assault on Gaza Town


New York Times

October 2, 2004

JERUSALEM, Oct. 1 - Israel sent more tanks and armored vehicles on Friday into the crowded Jabaliya refugee camp in Gaza City, trying to push back Palestinian militants who have been firing homemade rockets into Sederot, a nearby Israeli town.

At least 100 tanks, armored personnel carriers and armored bulldozers, which can be used to blow up land mines, moved into Gaza, along with hundreds of Israeli regular soldiers, some of them from the West Bank, to reinforce hundreds of other Israeli troops. Late Thursday night the Israeli cabinet, under political pressure to stop the rockets after one killed two children in Sederot, approved a larger military operation.

During daylight hours on Friday, at least 8 Palestinians were killed and 17 wounded in two missile strikes in Jabaliya, which is more like a large, overcrowded urban neighborhood than a camp. Home mostly to those who fled Israel in 1948 and to their descendants, its narrow streets make it a difficult place to maneuver armored vehicles, and dangerous for infantry. In the past, the Israelis have largely left it alone.

The army said the missiles were fired at Palestinians planting explosives and another group setting up a rocket launcher. On Friday night, a helicopter fired rockets into a refrigerator factory that the Israelis said was being used to make rockets.

Another Palestinian was killed and seven were captured as they tried to storm the Erez border crossing between northern Gaza and Israel, the military said. They were armed and carrying a bomb with 88 pounds of explosives, the military said. Four were Palestinian police officers, and three others were dressed as police officers, the army said. The effort was jointly claimed by Hamas and Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades, a militant group linked to Yasir Arafat's Fatah movement.

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said the troops would "exact a price" from the militants after a rocket fired Wednesday by Hamas, which fires most of them, killed Dorit Anisso, a 2-year-old girl, and Yuval Anisso, a 4-year-old boy, children of immigrants from Ethiopia. Since then, at least 48 Palestinians have been killed in fighting and more than 200 wounded. At least 3 Israelis have died.

Israeli troops suffered at least two casualties when a bulldozer was hit by an explosive; one soldier was evacuated by helicopter.

Israeli military officials say they must sharply diminish the number of Qassam rockets that fall on Sederot, the Israeli town closest to the fence bordering Gaza, and to discover and dismantle arms caches and rocket workshops. Two of the highly inaccurate rockets reached Sederot on Friday, but did no damage. By pushing into Jabaliya, the army is trying to establish a temporary buffer zone of four to five miles that would make Sederot harder to hit. Adir, 18, an Israeli soldier who would not give his last name, spoke just inside Gaza. He said he had just arrived directly from Jenin, without even fresh underwear. "We have to finish with them once and for all," he said of the militants firing the rockets. "We have to put an end to it."

Mkhaimar Abu Sada, a Gazan who teaches at Al Azhar University there, said this Israeli incursion, like others before it, "won't stop the rockets."

There is a cycle of violence, Mr. Abu Sada said. "And there is no central Palestinian government where you can go and tell them, stop the rockets," he said. "We have a number of different militia groups operating on their own, all competing to see how many rockets they can shoot, to prove to the Palestinian people that they are fighting the Israelis more than the others."

Setting up and firing the simple homemade Qassam rockets, which have a range of about five miles, can be done in minutes, and attackers can flee quickly.

"Thank God the holy warriors have designed these rockets; they are shaking the Jewish people," said Motea al-Sharafi, whose brother was killed during clashes on Wednesday. "This is the way we will take revenge."

Thousands of Palestinians marched in the streets for the funerals; in Sederot, the Anisso children were also buried Friday.

Dr. Manar al-Fara, head of Al Awda hospital in Gaza, said she had removed antipersonnel fléchettes from some of the dead and wounded. "The shell was full of needles," she said. "That's why their bodies are torn.''

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees, which provides aid in Gaza, also accused the army of taking over three schools while pupils were still in class and using them as firing positions, a spokesman, Matthias Burchard, in Geneva.