At Least 18 Palestinians Dead in Gaza Raid
Israel said it was targeting the camp to destroy arms-smuggling tunnels and hunt for Palestinian militants who used the camp as a base to attack Israeli soldiers last week. The Israeli Army maintains most of those killed were gunmen.
But Palestinians said six civilians were among the casualties, including a brother and sister, ages 13 and 16, who were killed by shots from a nearby army position while taking down laundry from a rooftop, according to the Associated Press.
Israel’s threat to destroy hundreds of homes as part of the offensive drew condemnation from the United Nations and European Union, Reuters reported.
Thousands of Palestinian homes in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have been razed since a revolt in occupied territory in 2000, U.N. figures show. A report released Tuesday from Amnesty International said Israel is guilty of war crimes for destroying the homes, according to the AP.
Last week, Israel demolished 100 homes near the patrol road in Gaza, leaving more than 1,000 Palestinians homeless.
President Bush called the Gaza bloodshed “troubling,” but told the pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC that Israel “has every right to defend itself from terror.”
The Israeli Foreign Ministry said Palestinian militants use houses in civilian neighborhoods to attack Israeli forces and as cover for weapons-smuggling tunnels.
The first phase of the Israeli offensive, called “Operation Rainbow,” struck the Tel Sultan neighborhood on the edge of the Rafah camp Tuesday, about two miles from the Israeli-patrolled road, the AP reported.
Bulldozers began tearing up a road to separate the neighborhood from the rest of the camp, home to about 90,000 Palestinians, witnesses said.
Of the 18 Palestinian casualties, ten were killed in two missile strikes and eight by machine gun fire, said Dr. Moawiya Hassanain, a senior Palestinian Health Ministry official.
Violence has intensified in Gaza since Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon proposed evacuating troops and Jewish settlers in a plan defeated by his Likud Party in early May. Many members of the party feared Palestinian militants would view the withdrawal as a victory.
According to commentators, Israel has amassed more forces in Gaza than at any time since occupying it 37 years ago for a raid in response to ambushes that left 13 soldiers there dead last week, Reuters reported.