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Israeli tanks, helicopters move near Gaza's Jabaliya refugee camp, firing shells, machine gunfire
By Ibrahim Barzak, Associated Press, 08/06/02
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- Israeli tanks and armored vehicles, backed by helicopters, pressed into the Gaza Strip early Wednesday, firing at houses and prompting hospitals to go on alert for casualties, residents and Palestinian security officials said.
Between 15 and 30 Israeli tanks and armored personnel carriers moved from areas near the Erez crossing with Israel toward Beit Lahiya and the Jebalya refugee camp north of Gaza City, security officials said.
The armor stayed about a half-mile from the camp, firing shells and machine guns at houses. Two helicopters flew overhead, the officials said, as troops stormed several Palestinian homes. It was not clear if any arrests were made.
Two buses accompanied the tanks, indicating the army intended to round up suspected militants, residents said.
The army said it was checking the report.
While hospitals were on alert, there were no immediate reports of injuries.
"They are firing their machine guns and many of the bullets have hit my house," Jawad Abu Samra, a 42-year-old teacher, said by telephone. He said he had taken shelter under his bed.
"My wife has taken my three children down to my brother's house," he said. "We are scared."
Announcements broadcast over loudspeakers at mosques in the Jebalya camp and closer to Gaza City urged residents to resist the incursion. It was not clear if residents were heeding the call.
In March, 13 Palestinians were killed when more than 20 Israeli tanks and troops, backed by helicopter gunships, stormed the Jebalya camp in a major offensive launched after mortar shells were fired at a Jewish settlement in Gaza.
Jebalya is a hotbed of Hamas militants as well as other militias which have carried out attacks on Israelis during the past 22 months of fighting.
The incursion followed three Israeli missile strikes on Monday at a suspected weapons factory in Gaza City. Four people were slightly injured.
That strike, from helicopter gunships, was the first on Gaza since an Israeli F-16 dropped a one-ton bomb on a Gaza City apartment block, killing the Hamas military and 14 other people, nine of them children.
The bombing prompted international condemnation and a rare rebuke from the White House because of the high civilian toll. It also prompted Hamas to vow revenge, which it quickly took with two deadly attacks -- a bombing last week at Jerusalem's Hebrew University that killed seven people, five of them Americans, and a suicide bombing on a bus Sunday in northern Israel that killed nine passengers.