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Israel Threatens to Step-up Airstrikes, Demolish Hundreds of Palestinian Homes in Gaza Strip - 2004-05-16


Israeli officials say they plan to increase military operations in the Gaza Strip, including renewed house demolitions and intensive air strikes. The cabinet decision was made after Israel's Supreme Court gave the army permission to resume demolishing homes in order to broaden an Israeli security zone along the Gaza-Egypt border. The head of Israel's army, General Moshe Ya'alon, told the cabinet it might be necessary to destroy hundreds of Palestinian homes in the Rafah refugee camp in order to improve security. Five Israeli soldiers were killed in the area last week by a roadside bomb.

Israel says militants use homes near the security zone to launch such attacks and to smuggle weapons from Egypt.

Earlier, Israel's Supreme Court rejected an appeal against the demolitions. The court said the army is entitled to carry out the demolitions in the name of self-defense. U.N. officials say the operation has left a thousand Palestinians homeless.

General Ya'alon says the renewed home demolitions will be part of intensified military operations in Gaza, including air-strikes. He says the attacks will focus on Palestinian armed groups, which he says are planning to launch more attacks against troops in the territory.

The general says some of these groups are trying to smuggle long-range Katyusha rockets into Gaza from neighboring Egypt, and to use them to launch attacks from Gaza against targets inside Israel.

Secretary of State Colin Powell, speaking at a regional conference in Jordan, urged Israel and the Palestinians to break their cycle of violence.

"The United States is anxious to do everything it can to stop this cycle of strike and counter-strike which has resulted in the loss of so many lives within the last week," he said.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon told his cabinet he has asked Egypt for assistance to help restore calm in southern Gaza.

Mr. Sharon said Israel is holding discussions with Egypt to modify their peace treaty to allow more Egyptian troops to be deployed along the border with Gaza.

He says Israel wants Egyptian troops to help stop the flow of arms and explosives across the border to Palestinian militant groups.

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