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11 Palestinians Killed in Israeli Operation in Gaza - 2003-02-19

Israeli forces have launched what is being described as a major operation into the Gaza Strip. At least 11 Palestinians were killed and more than 20 injured.

An Israeli military statement says the operation, which began late Tuesday and ended just before dawn, was aimed at what it called "terrorist infrastructure." It says troops destroyed several workshops used for manufacturing weapons and exchanged fire with Palestinian gunmen.

Israel Radio said a force of 40 tanks backed by helicopter gunships moved into the Gaza Strip town of Shajaiyeh.

The report said Palestinians opened fire with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades as the column of tanks entered the town. It said there were no Israeli casualties.

The latest Israeli raid is the second in Gaza City since a roadside bomb blew up an Israeli tank and killed four soldiers on Saturday. The militant group Hamas claimed responsibility for that attack.

Israeli forces have killed eight Hamas members in the past three days.

In the more than two years of Israeli-Palestinian violence, Israel has not carried out many large-scale military incursions into Gaza. The crowded towns there can make it difficult and dangerous for Israeli troops to operate.

The military has preferred to rely on a policy of containment made possible by the erection of security fences that separate the territory from Israel and make it harder for militants to infiltrate Israeli territory. Most of the militant attacks in the area are aimed at Jewish settlers inside Gaza.

In the West Bank, Palestinians say a 32-year-old baker was shot and killed by Israeli troops in the city of Nablus.

Meanwhile, Israeli officials say they have lifted travel restrictions on the Palestinian territories to ease living conditions. Israeli forces sealed off the Gaza Strip and West Bank on February 10, after warnings that Palestinian militants planned to launch a new wave of attacks.