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Israeli Forces Attack Palestinian Security Facilities in Gaza - 2002-11-18

Israeli forces made a brief incursion into Gaza City overnight, attacking Palestinian security facilities with helicopter gunships, tanks and gunboats. The action was the fifth in the Palestinian area in as many days.

Tanks moved deep into the city while Israeli gunboats fired from offshore, shelling an area where Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat once had offices. Those office buildings were destroyed in an Israeli attack several months ago. Two Palestinian security officers and a journalist were reported to have been lightly wounded in the latest attack, which lasted more than three hours.

Several of the buildings in the Palestinian Security Service compound were destroyed in the raid. For the first time in two years of fighting, the security forces main administrative building was hit.

The Preventive Security Service was set up under the 1993 Oslo peace agreement. Israel Radio quoted General Yisrael Ziv, commander of the army's Gaza division, as saying the Preventive Security apparatus in Gaza is a terrorist organization in every sense.

Israeli officials say Palestinian security personnel in Gaza City have supported terrorist activity in the area. During the overnight raid, the army says troops seized weapons of the type often used against Israel.

Palestinians called the Israeli operation aggression.

It was the fifth straight night of Israeli operations inside Gaza, which until recently had been spared the large-scale military operations that have been seen in the West Bank. Israel retook control of most of the main Palestinian population centers in response to a string of terrorist attacks in Israel.

Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon visited Hebron, where 12 Israeli soldiers and security guards were killed in an ambush two days earlier. Mr. Sharon said he wants to expand the area of the divided city under Israeli control.

The Israeli government initially said the attack was a massacre of worshipers walking home to Kiryat Arba, a Jewish settlement a short distance east of Hebron, after prayers at the Tomb of the Patriarchs, a shrine in Hebron's old city that is sacred to both Muslims and Jews. But Israeli military commanders and settlement leaders later said the casualties were all soldiers, border patrolmen or Jewish settlement security officers.

Mr. Sharon says there must be "territorial continuity" between the Kiryat Arba Jewish settlement, on the edge of Hebron, and Jewish enclaves inside the city, which has 450 Jewish settlers and nearly 130,000 Palestinian residents. The changes Prime Minister Sharon proposed would force some Palestinians out of their homes.

A 1997 agreement transferred most of Hebron to Palestinian self-rule while allowing Israeli soldiers to remain, to protect the small Jewish enclaves. On Sunday, Mr. Sharon said the agreement is no longer valid.