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Israel Expands Military Buffer Zone in Gaza - 2004-10-03


Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says the military operations in Gaza will go on for as long as it takes to end the rocket attacks against Israeli border towns. More than 65 Palestinians and five Israelis have been killed in clashes since the offensive was launched last Thursday.

Prime Minister Sharon says the nine-kilometer buffer zone in northern Gaza is being extended to protect Israeli border towns from Palestinian rocket attacks.

"We have to expand the buffer zone," he said, "to put the Kassem rocket attacks out of range of Israeli communities."

In spite of the military offensive, militants lobbed another rocket into Israel Sunday. Hamas fighters also are threatening to target the industrial town of Ashkelon, about 12 kilometers farther into Israel.

Mr. Sharon told Army Radio Sunday the military campaign in Gaza would not end, until the danger is over.

Troops and tanks have pushed into the Jabalya refugee camp in northern Gaza, where they have clashed with militants. On Sunday, troops opened a new front in Khan Younis to the south.

Palestinian leaders have called the military campaign inhumane. The Arab League was holding an emergency meeting in Cairo to discuss the situation.

The increased military operations come after Prime Minister Sharon promised to carry out his plan to remove about eight-thousand Jewish settlers from Gaza next year, despite opposition from his own political party.

In other news, Israel has lodged a complaint at the United Nations against the U.N. agency that deals with Palestinian issues, UNRWA (U.N. Relief and Works Agency). Israel claims Palestinian militants transported a rocket in a vehicle with U.N. markings, based on video footage taken from an unmanned aircraft.

UNRWA Commissioner-General Peter Hansen rejects the charges, and says the object shown in the army video appears to be too small and too light to be a rocket.

"The Qassam rocket, as it was implied to be, weighs between 32 and 50 kilos," he said. "No man is easily going to carry that in his hand, as it was carried. So, it cannot possibly be a heavy object. It is in all likelihood, if anybody looks twice at the picture, a stretcher, a portable stretcher that is folded."

An UNRWA press statement also says the video does not indicate when or where it was taken. The Israeli military says it was taken over the Jabalya refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip.

This is not the first time Israel has complained about UNRWA. In the past, Israel also has accused the U.N. agency of an anti-Israel bias. The United Nations says it will investigate the latest allegations.