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Israeli helicopters attack Fatah movement offices

Mon., May 17, 2004

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – Israeli helicopters fired five missiles at an office of the Fatah movement in a Gaza City neighborhood early today, witnesses said.

The targeted building is in the Zeitoun neighborhood, they said. Ambulances were racing to the scene, but there were no reports of casualties. The air strike came just after midnight, when offices are usually empty.

The Israeli military had no immediate comment. The attack came hours after Israel’s defense minister told his Cabinet that air strikes in Gaza would be intensified after a week of fighting in which 13 Israeli soldiers and 31 Palestinians were killed.

The missiles set the second floor of the four-story building on fire. Smoke poured into the sky as fire engines arrived. Several dozen people came out of nearby houses to watch, though Israeli helicopters continued to hover in the sky above.

Fatah is the movement of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Residents said the small Democratic Front also had an office in the building.

The Zeitoun neighborhood was the scene of heavy fighting last week after Palestinians blew up an Israeli armored personnel carrier, killing six soldiers.

In other developments, Israel plans to demolish hundreds more homes in a Palestinian refugee camp if violence and weapons smuggling persist there, officials said Sunday after one of the bloodiest weeks in the current round of fighting.

Israel also plans to make wider use of airstrikes in Gaza, the Israeli defense minister was quoted as telling the Israeli Cabinet. Missile strikes tend to be more lethal than other means of fighting.

On Sunday evening, Israeli troops killed three Palestinians trying to plant a bomb on the border fence between Israel and Gaza, Israel Radio reported. The military said soldiers fired at suspicious Palestinians, and explosives they were carrying detonated, killing them. Earlier, Israel Radio reported that four Palestinians were killed.

Also Sunday, Israeli troops clashed with armed Palestinians south of the West Bank city of Hebron, the military said. One of the Palestinians was hit.

The warnings came after 13 Israeli soldiers were killed in the Gaza Strip last week. The high death toll has galvanized a popular campaign for a withdrawal from Gaza, with more than 100,000 Israelis rallying in Tel Aviv over the weekend – one of the largest demonstrations here in recent years.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon wants to withdraw from Gaza, but his plan of “unilateral disengagement” has been vetoed by his Likud Party, and the military instead is intensifying its strikes against armed Palestinians.


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