Three Palestinians killed in army raid in Gaza

Saturday, December 18th 2004, 11:27 am

By: News On 6

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) _ Israeli troops killed three Palestinians Saturday, on the second day of an Israeli raid in the Khan Younis refugee camp in southern Gaza, witnesses and hospital officials said.

In all, 11 Palestinians, including at least seven militants, have been killed and 31 others have been wounded since Israeli tanks and bulldozers entered the camp Friday. The wounded included a Palestinian ambulance driver and five children under age 16. One Israeli soldier also was wounded.

The raid, aimed at stopping Palestinian mortar and rocket fire on Israeli settlements and military outposts in Gaza, was the largest Israeli military operation since Yasser Arafat's death on Nov. 11.

Palestinian mortar barrages over the past week killed a Thai worker in a Jewish settlement and injured 17 other people, including 11 soldiers.

On Saturday, Palestinian militants launched a homemade rocket from northern Gaza into Israel, causing no injuries or damage, the army said.

In Khan Younis, tank fire killed two Palestinian militants in separate incidents, Palestinian hospital officials said. The body of a third Palestinian shot in the head was recovered Saturday morning, medical officials said. It was unclear whether he was a militant.

Residents of the Rafah refugee camp along Gaza's border with Egypt said five Palestinians who had been trapped in an underground weapons smuggling tunnel were rescued alive. The tunnel collapsed early Friday. The five Palestinians were rescued Saturday after spending 23 hours underground, witnesses said.

Also, negotiators from the opposition Labor Party and ruling Likud Party were expected to meet Saturday to finalize their pact to form a coalition government.

Under the plan, Labor Party leader Shimon Peres would become deputy prime minister. Israeli media reported Saturday that the two sides planned to sign the accord Sunday.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has sought to bring Labor and at least one religious party into his minority government to give him a majority to push through his plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and four West Bank settlements next year.

Sharon's withdrawal plan, coupled with the Yasser Arafat's death last month, has created new optimism for regional peace efforts. Both Palestinian and Israeli officials have expressed hope for restarting negotiations after Jan. 9 Palestinian elections.

In an interview in the German weekly Der Spiegel, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak called Sharon ``the only one in Israel who can take the courageous step toward peace.''

``The contacts that we had with Sharon over recent weeks showed that he wants to move,'' Mubarak told the magazine in an interview released Saturday.

Mubarak also expressed hope for new U.S. peace efforts to resolve the conflict and said he believed a Palestinian state could be established by 2008.

Also Saturday, the Islamic militant group Hamas marked its 17th anniversary with a march through the streets of the West Bank city of Nablus by thousands of supporters _ some carrying flags and pictures of Hamas leaders killed in fighting with Israel.

Dozens of gunmen and several hundred Hamas members in military fatigues burned a life-sized cardboard replica of an Israeli tank as the crowd cheered.

``Hamas will continue to resist with arms until Palestine is liberated from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea,'' said Hamas spokesman Ahmad Hajj Ali, adding that Hamas will not yield to demands by the Palestinian leadership to stop attacks against Israel.

``We warn anyone who tries to disarm the resistance movements because Israel only understand the language of war,'' he said.

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