Israel Strikes Again In Gaza

A Palestinian boy throws stones at an Israeli Army tank patrolling the streets of the West Bank town of Jenin, Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2003. (AP Photo/Mohammed Ballas)
AP
An Israeli gunboat and helicopters fired shells toward unidentified targets north of Gaza City on Tuesday, wounding as many as 22 people, witnesses said.

An unconfirmed report said one attack was aimed at a small red Renault car driving on Gaza's coastal road. One person was reported dead.

The strikes followed a pre-dawn raid Tuesday by Israeli soldiers disguised as Arabs that snatched two wounded Palestinian militants from their beds — one of them wanted for planning a suicide bombing.

Troops staging an arrest sweep in Nablus jumped from the back of a truck and poured into Raffidiyeh Hospital from two sides. They declared a lock-down, confining nurses and doctors to a few rooms, and broke down an electrically operated door to the Intensive Care Unit.

Soldiers armed with M-16 rifles asked a nurse to lead them to the wounded fugitives. They grabbed the militants' medical files and wheeled the men out on their hospital beds to waiting military ambulances.

The wanted men — members of the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, a militant group loosely affiliated with Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction — were driven to Israel's Beilinson Hospital near Tel Aviv and were being treated for moderate injuries, military sources said.

Israel accuses one of the men — Othman Younis, 27 — of helping plan several attacks in which at least 10 people were killed, including an Aug. 12 supermarket bombing that killed a father of two in central Israel. That bombing came in the midst of a cease-fire declared by militant groups on June 29.

The other fugitive, Fahid Bani-Odeh, 25, is wanted for shooting attacks. Both are "hardcore" members of Al Aqsa, said the group's spokesman, who goes by the name Abu Mujahed. He confirmed that Younis helped plan the suicide bombing.

A two-month truce, which had reduced three years of violence, collapsed under last week's violence. A suicide bomber killed 21 people on a Jerusalem bus on Tuesday, and Israel killed a top-ranking Hamas political leader two days later.

Since the bombing, Israel has killed seven Hamas members, including a senior leader, in missile strikes, which marked the renewal of Israel's policy to hunt and kill militants. Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon has made clear that all members of the militant group are targets for "liquidation."

The latest missile strike, on Gaza's beach front late Sunday, forced senior Hamas members to go into hiding, while the group's spokesmen turned off their cellular phones. Hamas leaders were conspicuously absent from funerals Monday for four men killed in Sunday's missile strike.

Also Tuesday, Muslim-Jewish friction intensified at a disputed holy site in Jerusalem. Police arrested three Islamic officials after Muslim worshippers scuffled with police officers escorting Jewish visitors. In September 2000, deadly riots erupted at the shrine following a visit by then-opposition leader Ariel Sharon. The unrest escalated into three years of fighting.

After Sharon's visit, the site — holy to Muslims as Haram as-Sharif and Jews as the Temple Mount — was closed to visitors. It was reopened by police last week, with the initial acquiescence of the Islamic Trust, which administers the site.

The shrine is revered by Jews as the site of the biblical Jewish temples and by Muslims as the spot where Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven. It is a potent symbol of rival claims on Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, the U.S.-backed Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas — who is trying to implement the "road map" peace plan to Palestinian statehood — scheduled a new round of talks with leaders of Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip. It appeared that leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad were not invited. Abbas said last week, after the Jerusalem bus bombing, that he is boycotting the militant groups.

Abbas's advisers have said he is hoping to negotiate a new cease-fire, this time making Israel a party to such a deal. Israel has said the Palestinians must live up to their obligations under the peace plan, including dismantling militant groups, and that it will continue hunting armed men until Palestinian security forces take action.

Brig. Gen. Jibril Rajoub, a former West Bank security chief named by Arafat earlier this week to the vacant post of national security adviser, said Tuesday that both sides must cooperate.

"We have to all think together how we are going to break the tension and put an end to the bloodshed," Rajoub told Israel Army Radio, speaking in Hebrew. "Part of it depends on us and the more important part depends on you and whether you are really willing to end the occupation."

Arafat fired Rajoub from his job as West Bank security chief after a violent argument in July 2002, but apparently brought him back in hopes of sidelining Abbas and his security chief Mohammed Dahlan. Rajoub and Dahlan have been rivals for years.

Secretary of State Colin Powell last week appealed in vain to Arafat to give Abbas full authority over security.

Abbas has been reluctant to crack down on militants, fearing it could spark civil war. He has appealed to Arafat to give him control of the key security branches, something he says is necessary to confront the militant groups.

In the Gaza Strip, Palestinian militants fired homemade Qassam rockets and mortar shells into nearby Israeli towns and Jewish settlements in the coastal strip overnight and early Tuesday, the army said.

Palestinians reported that soldiers were firing from the area where the shells and rockets were landing. Two Palestinians were wounded by gunfire, hospital officials and security sources said.