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Israel Launches Major Offensive in the Palestinian Areas - 2002-03-12

Israel is conducting its biggest military operation since the Palestinian uprising began in September 2000. At least 28 Palestinians have been killed. Separately, six Israelis and two gunmen have been killed in an apparent Palestinian attack in the north of Israel. Correspondent Michael Drudge has more from Jerusalem.

Israeli troops and tanks have swept into the Gaza Strip and West Bank in a massive assault against what Israel calls centers of terrorism.

Most of the Palestinian deaths were recorded in the Gaza Strip refugee camp of Jabaliya. Hospitals overflowed with wounded Palestinians.

Israeli tanks and helicopters hammered the camp before dawn Tuesday. A fierce battle erupted between the Israelis and Palestinian gunmen. Israel said it destroyed Palestinian weapons factories in the camp.

In a separate action, more than 150 Israeli tanks rumbled into the West Bank city of Ramallah and the adjacent Amari refugee camp. The Israeli military is defending the incursions, saying Ramallah has become the center of Palestinian terrorist attacks against Israel. Military Chief of Operations Colonel Gal Hirsh told reporters Israel must defend itself. "Since we are under massive, intensive terrorist attack," he said, "what other choice do we have, but to enter, to attack, under the directive of defense?"

But outside observers are criticizing Israel's tactics. The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, has called for the violence to end. "It is unacceptable that this continues," she said. "It must be addressed politically seriously. There must be willingness to end this terrible, terrible situation of violence, of intrusion in refugee camps, of terrified women, and children and elderly. I have been there, so I know the situation on the ground. And also, there must be political momentum to stop violence on all sides and have a political solution."

But many Israelis are demanding a tougher line. Fifty-thousand Israelis demonstrated Monday in Tel Aviv to call for the government to punish the Palestinians even more.