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Israeli Troops Kill 5 in Gaza Gun Battles - 2004-03-21


Israeli troops on Sunday killed at least five Palestinians, including one they say was a wanted fugitive, during gun battles with Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip.

Israeli soldiers entered the town of Khan Younis early Sunday and surrounded a compound where, they said, a member of the Islamic group Hamas had gone into hiding.

The Israeli army said that as the man, Basem Kadeeh, and his wife tried to flee, the troops opened fire and the bomb he was carrying exploded, killing both of them.

A gun-battle ensued with other armed Palestinians from Hamas, and some were killed. The Israeli soldiers then demolished the compound, which it said contained a workshop for making rockets, mortars and missiles.

The raid is part of a military offensive into Gaza that began last week after Hamas claimed responsibility for a double Sunday bombing in the port of Ashdod, which killed 11 Israelis.

Hamas, which is listed by the U.S. State Department as a terrorist organization, has carried out frequent suicide bombings and other attacks that have killed hundreds of Israelis.

Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz told Israel's cabinet on Sunday that military strategists are putting together a plan to significantly weaken Hamas, before a proposed Israeli withdrawal from Gaza.

Mr. Mofaz said the plan would include stopping terror attacks from Hamas, blocking the transfer of funds to the organization and destroying what he called its terrorist infrastructure.

He said Israel has decided to step up its offensive against Hamas after learning that it is being supported by the Hezbollah in Lebanon, another militant Islamic group dedicated to Israel's destruction.

Mr. Mofaz also indicated that Israel is likely to launch more air strikes from attack helicopters against Hamas members in the Gaza Strip.