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Israeli Forces Destroy Gaza Strip Metal Workshop - 2003-01-24

Israeli forces destroyed at least one metal workshop and the home of a Palestinian militant in raids early Friday in the Gaza Strip that left at least four people wounded. Sonja Pace reports from Jerusalem on the activity which came just hours after Palestinian gunmen killed three Israeli soldiers outside the West Bank town of Hebron.

Israeli helicopter gunships fired numerous missiles, hitting at least one workshop along with a Christian chapel located inside a hospital compound. The missile attack early Friday came shortly after Israeli tanks and armored vehicles pushed into Gaza City neighborhoods.

The Israeli military issued a statement that it had attacked a workshop it said was used to manufacture weapons. It said two Palestinians were arrested in the operation including a colonel in the Palestinian security services. Israel often targets metals workshops, saying they are used to make weapons used against Israelis.

Palestinians say at least 20 Israeli tanks and armored vehicles were also involved in the overnight incursion, destroying the home of a militant killed last year by Israeli forces.

The Gaza operation came several hours after Palestinian militants killed three Israeli soldiers in an ambush outside a Jewish settlement near the divided West Bank town of Hebron.

Israeli officials say Palestinian gunmen opened fire on an Israeli patrol close to the Beit Hagai settlement. The Israeli army imposed a curfew on a nearby Palestinian village immediately after the shooting.

The radical Palestinian group Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was in retaliation for attacks by Jewish settlers against Palestinian residents of Hebron.

The latest violence comes ahead of next week's Israeli elections. Incumbent Prime Minister Ariel Sharon favors harsh military retaliation for Palestinian attacks while his Labor Party opponent, Amram Mitzna, backs talks with the Palestinians and an Israeli withdrawal from most of the occupied territories. Public-opinion surveys indicate Mr. Sharon should win the election.