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Israeli Incursion Into Gaza Strip Sparks Intense Gun Battle

The Israeli incursion appeared, in part, to target Yousef Abu Hein, a senior leader of the militant Palestinian group Hamas. The Israeli tanks and troops surrounded a building in the Shijaia neighborhood of Gaza City suspected of being a Hamas stronghold as well as the home of Hein’s extended family.

Israeli soldiers called on the family members to leave the building and when they refused, an intense gun battle broke out between troops and several masked fighters according to reporters in the area.

The BBC reported that the gunfight raged for more than 10 hours with helicopters and tanks attacking the building where Hein and others were located. According to the Associated Press, Hein was killed in the fighting.

The gun battle has been characterized as the most intense of the latest conflict between Palestinians and Israelis, which erupted in September 2000.

At least 10 Palestinians were killed in the raid, including two boys aged two and 13 and an estimated 65 others were wounded. At least seven Israeli soldiers were wounded.

Dr. Fadel Abu Hein, a psychologist and a brother of the wanted man, said his four-story apartment building came under intense fire from Israeli troops.

“We are sitting in full darkness. Children are screaming. We are trying to calm them down, but bullets are coming from all directions,” he told the Associated Press.

The Israeli incursion came a day after a suicide bomber triggered a large explosion in Tel Aviv early Wednesday local time. The blast, which occurred at a seaside nightclub, killed three Israelis and wounded some 55 others.

Israeli security authorities said a 21-year-old British Muslim they identified as Asif Mohammed Hanif carried out the nightclub bombing.

It was unclear as to whether Thursday’s Israeli incursion was in response to the Tel Aviv blast. The Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, another Palestinian militant group, claimed responsibility for the bombing although Hamas also said it aided in the attack.

Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual leader of the Hamas group, rejected the new “road map” to peace between the Israelis and Palestinians Wednesday saying that it “aims to assure security for Israel at the expense of the security of our people. It is a plan to liquidate the Palestinian cause. It is rejected by us.”

The peace plan, drafted by the so-called “Quartet” — the U.S., Russia, the European Union and the United Nations — calls for the creation of a Palestinian state as early as 2005 and sets out a series of goals meant to achieve a final resolution to the more than 50-year conflict.

Under the so-called “road map” both Palestinians and Israelis are required to take concrete steps to move the peace process forward. Palestinians must implement an immediate end to suicide attacks, continue democratic reforms to its institutions and reiterate Israel’s right to exist in peace and security.

Israelis must pledge support for a Palestinian state, end all work on settlements in contested territory and must work to normalize Palestinian life by ending occupation of towns and easing blockades.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell urged Israeli and Palestinian leaders to begin talks on the proposed accord Thursday, saying “a lot of work has to take place” before the plan’s goals can be met.

“We need to see the end of terror — and actions on the Israel side as well,” Powell said.

Powell spoke in Spain during the opening of a trip through Europe and the Middle East, a day after President Bush urged Israelis and Palestinians to “immediately end the violence and return to a path of peace.”