Israeli airstrike kills Hamas rocket maker; bulldozers demolish houses

Saturday, November 4th 2006, 5:47 am
By: News On 6

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) _ Israeli aircraft killed a top Hamas rocket maker in a missile strike on his minivan Saturday, while huge army bulldozers began demolishing homes in a northern Gaza town on the fourth day of an Israeli offensive against Palestinian rocket squads.

Another man was killed when an Israeli tank shell brought down his small home, burying him under the rubble, a relative said. The army had no immediate comment on the incident, or the house demolitions described by neighbors.

Hamas gunmen attacked a house used by Israeli soldiers, setting off explosives and firing rockets, said the group's spokesman, Abu Obeida. One gunman was killed in the fighting, he said. The army declined to comment.

Saturday's deaths brought to 38 the number of Palestinians killed in the military's campaign against the town of Beit Hanoun, on the border with Israel. More than 200 people have been wounded in the sweep, including 29 who are in critical condition, Palestinian health officials said.

The army says Beit Hanoun was targeted because it is a major launching ground for rockets on Israeli communities near Gaza.

Since taking over Beit Hanoun earlier in the week, troops have conducted house-to-house searches, sometimes breaking through inner walls, posted snipers on roofs and rounded up hundreds of men for questioning, releasing most of them later. Since nightfall Friday, aircraft have struck a dozen times, targeting militants laying explosives or preparing rockets.

Early Saturday, a missile fired from the air hit a minivan carrying Hamas activists. The strike killed Louay al-Borno, a top Hamas rocket maker, and severed the legs of two other passengers, members of the group said. The van burst into flames.

Army bulldozers began demolishing homes near a Beit Hanoun mosque that had been the scene of a deadly standoff between troops and gunmen the day before. The huge D9 bulldozers flattened at least five houses near the mosque, and residents were given no warning, neighbors said.

``It (the bulldozer) was moving in the dark like a big dinosaur,'' Fayez Abu Harbid, 29, a school teacher from Beit Hanoun, said by telephone. Details were difficult to obtain because most residents said they stayed clear of windows for fear of army snipers posted around them.

Abu Harbid said he learned that one of his relatives was killed early Saturday when a tank shell hit his small home, collapsing the walls. He said the body has since been retrieved from the rubble. The Palestinian Health Ministry confirmed the death.

Atef Radwan, minister of refugee affairs in the Hamas government, told a local Hamas radio station that Israeli forces had taken over the rooftop of his Beit Hanoun home and posted snipers there. He said he and his family fled to a neighbor's house.

The Beit Hanoun sweep is different from previous incursions into Gaza, which resumed in June after the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier by Hamas militants, a senior Israeli military official said. In the past, troops would largely stay on the outskirts of populated areas, instead of going house-to-house, he said.

The Palestinians appealed for international pressure on Israel to halt the campaign.

Palestinian U.N. observer Riyad Mansour said he sent letters to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and other top U.N. officials asking them ``to do whatever they can to stop this aggression immediately.''

Annan expressed deep concern about the escalation of violence and rising death toll and urged Israel ``to exercise maximum restraint, do their utmost to protect civilians and to refrain from further escalating an already grave situation,'' U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.