Israeli tanks move into Palestinian territory

The Associated Press
Saturday August 18, 2001

JERUSALEM — Israeli tanks rolled into a Palestinian area in the southern Gaza Strip early Saturday and exchanged fire with militants, leaving one dead and 10 injured, Palestinian officials said. 

Shortly after midnight Friday, Israeli tanks and bulldozers moved about 150 yards into Palestinian territory on the outskirts of the town of Khan Yunis, Palestinian security sources said on condition of anonymity. 

Palestinian gunmen fired on the Israeli forces as they moved in, the security sources said. Doctors at Nasser Hospital in Khan Yunis said one Palestinian was killed and 10 were injured. 

The Israeli military had no immediate comment, but Israeli forces have ventured into Palestinian areas in Gaza on numerous occasions during the current conflict, often to tear down houses and buildings being used for cover by the militants. 

The Israeli incursions have drawn international condemnation, and in the past, the Israeli forces have retreated, usually after only a few hours. 

The Israeli action came after Prime Minister Ariel Sharon made a military tour of the Gaza Strip on Friday to visit Israeli soldiers in the volatile region. 

Sharon toured Gush Katif, a collection of Jewish settlements in the southern Gaza Strip, his office said. The settlements have come under frequent attack by Palestinian gunmen and from militants firing mortars. 

Also, Israeli forces and Palestinians clashed Friday in Rafah, a town along Gaza’s southern border with Egypt, not far from the spot Sharon visited. 

Eight Palestinians were wounded, four of them seriously, according to doctors at the Rafah hospital. The Israeli army said its troops came under fire from Palestinians and shot back. 

It was not clear where Sharon was when the shooting broke out. The southern end of the Gush Katif settlements are less than a mile from Rafah. 

Also Friday, Israeli police stopped a car entering Israel from the West Bank, overpowered two Palestinians inside and found a powerful bomb that weighed 22 pounds, police said. 

After the car was stopped, police evacuated the Israeli Arab town of Baka al-Gharbiyah. A bomb-disposal robot then fired four bullets at the bomb, exploding it on the main street of the town. There were no injuries. 

Police said the two men arrested belong to the militant group Islamic Jihad, which has claimed responsibility for many bombings. 

A pair of Palestinian suicide bombings during the past week appeared to diminish support for Sharon, who won a landslide victory in February with the promise that he would end the Palestinian uprising. 

A Gallup poll published in the Maariv newspaper said only 21 percent of Israelis believed he could end the violence, while 70 percent said he would not. Nine percent said they did not know. 

In a Gallup poll last month, 43 percent believed Sharon could end the violence, and 41 percent disagreed. 

Sharon’s own standing also took a beating, with 49 percent of the people approving of his performance as prime minister, while 42 percent expressed dissatisfaction. In last month’s poll, 59 percent said they were satisfied. 

The latest poll questioned 593 Israeli adults and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points. 

With the Mideast violence dragging into its 11th month, a growing number of Israeli politicians are talking about the possibility of Israel taking unilateral steps to separate itself from the Palestinians. 

The Haaretz newspaper said a number of politicians were setting up a movement to push for unilateral separation, including Cabinet minister Dalia Itzik, and former minister Haim Ramon, both from the moderate Labor party, along with Michael Eitan from Sharon’s hard-line Likud and Dan Meridor, leader of the Center party. 

Separation efforts could include building a fence between Israel and the West Bank. Israeli troops now man checkpoints on the roads, but most of the border area can be crossed on foot. 

Such plans would have to address how to handle the 200,000 Jewish settlers scattered throughout the West Bank. 

Israeli opponents of unilateral separation say it would mean handing over large parts of the West Bank to the Palestinians without a peace accord.