Israeli air strikes killed five Palestinians in the Gaza Strip on Thursday as the military operation here entered its 16th day. The Israeli offensive is aimed at ending rocket attacks on Israel by Palestinian militants. Two Hamas militants were reported killed in one of the attacks on the Jabalya refugee camp in northern Gaza.
Two other militants died along with a 70-year-old Palestinian civilian in another attack in the Rafah camp in the southern Gaza Strip.
The army said in that instance it was going after gunmen who had just launched an anti-tank rocket at Israeli troops who were searching for tunnels used to smuggle weapons into Gaza from Egypt.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has vowed to stop Palestinian militants from firing rockets into Israel. The military operation, dubbed Days of Penitence, was launched after a Hamas rocket killed two children in the Israeli town of Sderot on September 29.
According to U.N. workers in Gaza, Israeli bulldozers demolished some 30 homes in Rafah, leaving about 40 people homeless before they withdrew around dawn on Thursday. There was a similar story in the northern part of the strip where some 20 houses were torn down in Beit Lahiya which is adjacent to the Jabalya refugee camp. Israel says it tears down buildings that harbor militants who fire at them or which camouflage tunnels used to smuggle arms into Gaza from Egypt.
More than 100 Palestinian are reported to have been killed in the 16-day operation, including more than 30 civilian non-combatants. Israel says the vast majority of the casualties were Palestinian militants.
Prime Minister Sharon said Thursday that his plan to evacuate all Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip will begin in May, 2005. Israel Radio said the Israeli leader told a closed-door meeting of the parliament's Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee that the withdrawal would last up to 12 weeks.