11 killed during Israeli raid of Gaza refugee camp

By Carol Rosenberg Knight Ridder Newspapers (KRT) JERUSALEM _ Israeli troops and tanks hunting Hamas Islamic militants battled Palestinians in a Gaza refugee camp Thursday, leaving 11 Arabs dead. Israelis and Palestinians traded accusations about the overnight fighting at the Jabalya refugee camp, but both sides agreed that civilians _ including three boys aged 12, 13 and 14, and a firefighter who was trying to douse a blaze in a commercial area _ died during the street fighting. Palestinian witnesses said the boys were among eight people killed when an Israeli tank shell hit a crowd. Israel’s army denied firing on civilians and countered that the deaths were caused when Palestinian militants detonated bombs meant for Israeli forces. Either way, the operation capped a grisly 24 hours in Israel and Gaza in the latest spasm of bloodshed that included the Wednesday bombing by a West Bank Palestinian college student of a bus in Haifa, killing himself and 14 others. Israeli officials said one of the dead was a 14-year-old American girl, a Baptist whose parents moved to the port city when she was just months old and had lived there ever since. Israel also said authorities had found a letter near the suicide bomber praising the Sept. 11 terror attacks that leveled New York’s World Trade Center and damaged the Pentagon. According to an Israeli translation, the letter was entitled “One of the Miracles of the Koran _ We Present it to the Muslims, Jews and Christians” and claimed that Allah had said 1,400 years ago that the “end of the world” would come on the street corner where the World Trade Center stood. Israel’s army said the Gaza incursion Thursday was aimed at arresting a “senior Hamas terrorist,” Abdel Karim Ziada. It said soldiers seized Ziada; a would-be suicide bomber’s belt and assault rifles, grenades, explosive devices and two anti-tank missile launchers. Photographs and video footage of the eight-hour, nighttime operation captured chaos and carnage in Gaza. Israeli helicopters raked streets with machine-gun fire trying to pick off gunmen scrambling to take up positions. Israel said that Palestinians in the camp of about 90,000, a hotbed of militancy, opened up with “massive gunfire” on its tanks, detonated bombs and fired anti-tank missiles at them. Jabalya resident Kayed Hamad, 39, blamed the Israelis for the bloodshed: “They kept firing randomly the whole night; the tile roof was falling over my head. I stayed with my son, wife and my 75-year-old mother near the bathroom.” Palestinians described overwhelmed hospitals and scenes of panic as Israeli armor moved into Jabalya, a stronghold of the Gaza-bred militant Hamas movement. Palestinian hospital officials estimated that 160 people were wounded in the Israeli operation. In the West Bank, Palestinian cabinet minister Saeb Erekat condemned the Gaza raid as “an act of revenge” by Israel for the Haifa bombing. But Israeli Brig. Gen. Gadi Shamni said on Army Radio that the operation was planned and approved prior to the Haifa attack. Israel began hunting down Hamas members in mid-February, after four Israeli soldiers were killed in southern Gaza when their tank veered off a secured route and struck a landmine. Since then, Israel has run a series of armor-backed operations across Gaza, saying they were aimed at routing Hamas. Fifty Palestinians have died, about 10 of them civilians. ___ ‘copy 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.