Israeli forces raided a Palestinian-ruled area of the Gaza Strip Tuesday and demolished several homes. The Israeli military action followed the wounding of two Israeli soldiers by Palestinian mortar fire. The incidents came just one day after Secretary of State Colin Powell appealed for the two sides to strive for peace.
Palestinian officials say that the Israeli army raid into Rafah refugee camp in the Gaza Strip was covered by tank shelling and heavy gunfire, causing severe damage to several houses. In addition, several other houses were demolished by the Israeli army forces, which came backed by tanks, bulldozers and armored personnel carriers.
Palestinian residents said that as a result of the Israeli actions, several families would be homeless during the Holy Month of Ramadan.
At least two Palestinians were reported wounded by Israeli gunfire during the raid.
Palestinian eyewitnesses say that the Israeli army also shelled the major transmitter that supplies the whole of Rafah with electricity.
The Israeli Army said the operation was justified, because Palestinian snipers were using houses to fire on soldiers and Israeli military positions.
In a separate incident outside a Jewish settlement in the Gaza Strip, Kfar-Darom, two Israeli soldiers were injured by shrapnel from a Palestinian mortar.
Nabil Abu Rudeinah, a top aide to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, says the incursion into Palestinian-ruled land is designed to "put obstacles in front of" two American envoys that Secretary of State Colin Powell is dispatching to the Mideast in an effort to resolve the conflict.
In a much-anticipated speech on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, Mr. Powell on Monday called for a freeze on Jewish settlement activity in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and for the Palestinians to halt terrorism.
Israeli and Palestinian officials welcomed his address, with each side emphasizing the demands being made on the other by the U.S. administration.