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Israeli Tanks Take Up Positions in Northern Gaza Strip - 2003-03-07

Israeli tanks have taken up positions in the northern Gaza Strip, some of them near a refugee camp where an Israeli military operation Thursday left 11 Palestinians dead. The latest series of raids follows a Palestinian suicide bombing Wednesday in Haifa that killed 15 Israelis.

Israeli forces established positions around the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun and the Jabalya refugee camp.

The army issued a statement saying the operation was aimed at preventing the launching of rockets towards Israeli communities near the northern Gaza Strip. he commander of Israeli troops in the area told Army Radio that the troops will stay in those positions, "as long as necessary."

Dozens of Israeli tanks and armored vehicles began moving toward Jabalya and Beit Hanoun late Thursday. The soldiers took up sniper positions around the fields on the outskirts of Beit Hanoun and around Jabalya. They said they cleared vegetation from the area in order to deny Palestinian militants places to hide while launching rockets into Israel.

There have been no reports of injuries, although shots were fired at the troops.

Three rockets landed Thursday in the southern Israeli town of Sderot, causing no casualties or damage. The Palestinian militant group Hamas took responsibility for the attack on Sderot, which has been a frequent target since Israeli forces began a series of raids into the Gaza Strip three-weeks ago.

Friday's operations began less than a day after a raid in the Jabalya camp in which 11 Palestinians were killed.

Israel's security cabinet decided earlier this week to impose a general closure on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and to increase military operations against Palestinian militants.