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Massive Military Operation Launched by Israel - 2004-05-17


Israel launched a massive military operation in the southern Gaza strip Monday aimed at stopping alleged arms smuggling from Egypt and attacks by Palestinian militants. Israel said the troops were under orders to seal off the town of Rafah, which it says is a major base of support for armed Palestinian groups, from the rest of Gaza.

Witnesses say hundreds of Israeli soldiers have been deployed in southern Gaza. The forces, which include armored, engineering and infantry units, backed by tanks, bulldozers and helicopter gun-ships entered Rafah Monday morning.

The soldiers were told to destroy what Israel calls the terrorist infrastructure in the town, including a network of tunnels used to smuggle weapons and explosives from neighboring Egypt.

The operation follows a decision of the Israeli cabinet on Sunday to step up military operations, following the killing of seven soldiers in the area last week. Fighting also killed at least 32 Palestinians across Gaza.

Dozens of Palestinian residents in Rafah have fled the area amid fears that the Israeli forces also intend to demolish their homes in the town and in an adjacent refugee camp. Dozens of Palestinian residents in Rafah have fled the area amid fears that the Israeli forces also intend to demolish their homes in the town and in an adjacent refugee camp.

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