GAZA CITY: Israeli troops backed by tanks and attack helicopters raided a Gaza Strip town early yesterday, killing two Palestinians during fierce fighting and demolishing abandoned buildings and the exterior wall of a hospital, Palestinian officials and the army said.
Entering the town of Khan Younis in southern Gaza before dawn, Israeli forces met fierce resistance. Firefights erupted with gunmen who used a school, a hospital and a mosque as cover when firing on troops, the army said. Several hours later, the forces withdrew from the town.
Abed Rabbo Assar, 50, was in his apartment watching the Israeli operation when he was shot. He later died in hospital. Mahmoud Abed Hadi, 27, a gunman was killed in the fighting, hospital official said. At least 35 Palestinians and two soldiers were wounded.
The latest military operation came hours after Palestinian officials agreed to convene the Palestinian Legislative Council next week and begin the process of appointing a prime minister, one of the reforms Israel and the United States demand as a precursor to the renewal of peace talks.
The army has increased its operations in the Gaza Strip since Feb 15 when Hamas claimed responsibility for planting a bomb in the path of an Israeli tank, which killed all four soldiers inside. It has also been operating in Khan Younis recently after a Palestinian gunman killed an Israeli soldier on Feb 23.
Col Pinchas Zoaretz, the commander of the operation, said the raid was to retaliate for the killing of the soldier and to demolish buildings and structures militants use to fire mortar bombs and Qassam missiles at Israeli towns and settlements.
We also want to continue putting pressure on the terrorist organisations ... to create a situation in which we are on the offensive and they are on the defensive,'' Col Zoaretz said.
Troops demolished an eight-story building that gunmen had hidden in 14 times in the past four months while firing on soldiers and several other abandoned structures also used for cover by militants, the army said.
Residents of the building rummaged through the rubble, searching for their belongings, while gunmen gathered around the remains, inspecting the destruction. AP