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Israeli Military Operations Continue in Gaza - 2004-05-20


Israel pushed ahead with its military offensive in the southern Gaza Strip Thursday. Five more Palestinians were killed in two incidents overnight. The action comes despite international condemnation of the Israeli army's operation aimed at militants in Gaza and the demolition of homes in the Rafah refugee camp.

Army spokeswoman, Brigadier General Ruth Yaron, said the offensive would continue until the tunnels used by Palestinian militants to smuggle weapons from Egypt into the Gaza Strip have been wiped out.

Early Thursday, an Israeli helicopter fired on what the military says was a group of gunmen approaching Israeli forces, killing three Palestinians and injuring at least two others. In a separate pre-dawn incident two suspected militants were killed by Israeli tank fire near the Egyptian border. Israel began demolishing dozens of Palestinian homes in Rafah last week, after 13 Israeli soldiers were killed in clashes with Palestinian militants. Seven of the soldiers were killed around Rafah. Several days later Israel launched an offensive it calls Operation Rainbow, saying it wanted to wipe out the militants' ability to smuggle in weapons.

At least 39 Palestinians have been killed in the operation thus far.

On Wednesday, Israel apologized for the killing of at least eight Palestinians earlier in the day, including children. They were killed when a helicopter and tank fired on demonstrators protesting the Israeli action in Gaza.

The U.N. Security Council voted Wednesday to rebuke Israel for its actions in the Gaza Strip. The United States abstained, enabling the resolution to pass. The United States often vetoes resolutions critical of Israel, but U.S. officials have expressed their displeasure at this Israeli action, saying it does not enhance the effort to revive peace talks.

Israeli officials insist they will not bow to international pressure and have dismissed the U.S. abstention, attributing it to what they term the delicate situation in which the United States finds itself in the region.

In separate action Thursday in the West Bank, Israeli forces conducted security sweeps in the Jenin refugee camp. Israel radio says some 50 Palestinians were detained. A senior Israeli officer was wounded by friendly fire in the operation. He was apparently mistaken for a Palestinian militant and shot by Israeli troops.