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OPT: Mofaz - Israel to reoccupy areas in Gaza Strip

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Gaza (dpa) - Israel's defence minister said Tuesday that Israeli troops would reoccupy several autonomous areas in the Gaza Strip to prevent rocket fire into Israel by Palestinian militants.
Shaul Mofaz made the remark as a Islamic militant was critically injured in an explosion in the al-Bureij refugee camp, south of Gaza City.

The man, a former bodyguard to Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual leader of the Islamic militant Hamas movement, apparently handled a grenade which detonated accidentally, reports from Gaza said. Two other men were also injured in the explosion.

Israel soldiers earlier injured four women, one of them critically, when they shelled a market in the town of Khan Younis, further south in the Strip, hospital officials said.

Witnesses said Israeli tanks stationed at the nearby settlement of Netzer Hazani opened intense gunfire and fired three tank shells, one of which landed in the market.

The Israeli army said all troops in the area denied having fired any tank shells and that the only shooting incident known to it was west of Khan Younis, where it said soldiers returned gunfire from Palestinian militants by firing light ammunition.

Israeli bulldozers, backed by tanks, earlier entered the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah, where they razed seven Palestinian-owned homes, a Palestinian public security spokesman reported.

The Israeli army said the force accidentally destroyed the outer wall of two buildings when it blocked the entrance to a tunnel used to smuggle weapons across the border from Egypt and flattened a row of empty structures nearby.

Residents, however, said they were not given any prior notice that their houses would be demolished and that soldiers called on them by megaphones to leave without allowing them to take any of their furniture or belongings.

A 23-year-old Palestinian also died of gun wounds sustained one week ago in Nablus, on the northern West Bank.

The death and injuries came after 10 days of escalating violence in the Gaza Strip, which began Saturday last week when a bomb planted by Hamas militants blew up an Israeli tank.

At least 32 Palestinians and five Israeli soldiers have been killed in the Gaza Strip since then, as the Israeli army retaliated with raids into Gaza City and Beit Hanoun, which met with fierce resistance by armed Palestinians.

Hamas in turn fired locally-produced Kassam rockets at the Israeli town of Sderot, just northeast of the Gaza Strip.

"The IDF (Israel Defence Forces) has advised taking control of several areas in the Gaza Strip in order to stop the firing of Kassam rockets at Israel and indeed that is what will happen," Mofaz said while touring the Jewish settlement of Netzarim, south of Gaza City, Tuesday.

The army already occupies parcels of land - but no cities - in the Gaza Strip, as opposed to the West Bank where Israel has reoccupied nearly all cities since last summer in a bid to stop suicide bombings launched from them.

The cities and their surrounding areas comprising of 42 per cent of the West Bank and most of the Gaza Strip received autonomy following the 1993 Oslo interim peace accords and are formally still governed by the Palestinian Authority.

But the Oslo accords have all but collapsed since the Palestinian Intifada (uprising) erupted more than two years ago amid a deadlock in final peace negotiations.

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Copyright (c) 2003 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH
Received by NewsEdge Insight: 02/25/2003 10:13:15

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