Israeli missile wounds 15 in Gaza refugee camp
An Israeli helicopter fired a missile into a Gaza refugee camp on Wednesday, wounding 15 people as gunmen confronted an Israeli force demolishing Palestinian homes near a Jewish settlement, witnesses said.
An Israeli military source said the army was carrying out an operation against Palestinian militants in Khan Younis camp in the southern Gaza Strip and the helicopter had fired at an "open area" to repulse armed men.
Medics said most of the wounded were civilians, including two children and a woman, with at least one gunman among the casualties. One person was in critical condition in hospital.
Palestinian witnesses later said ground forces operating in the area had pulled back, leaving a string of demolished buildings in their wake.
The Israeli unit -- comprising 10 tanks, armored personnel carriers and bulldozers -- withdrew from the camp after daybreak, military sources confirmed.
Violence has surged in Gaza as militants seek to portray Israel's plan to evacuate Jewish settlers from occupied territory next year as a victory, while Israel is determined to prevent that by smashing Palestinian armed factions first.
The night-time incursion drew fire from gunmen, witnesses said. A helicopter then launched a missile which the witnesses said exploded near a group of Palestinians.
Residents fled into the night as Israeli bulldozers flattened homes bordering the adjacent settlement of Neve Dekelim, where witnesses said a security wall is being built. The army has mounted several such raids in the area recently.
The Israeli military is concerned it may have to evacuate settlers under fire from militants, who have launched frequent mortar bomb and rocket attacks against the Jewish enclaves where some 8,000 Israelis live.
Israel has carried out many aerial missile strikes and ground offensives in Gaza and the West Bank in rolling campaigns to quell Palestinians in revolt since 2000.
WEST BANK KILLING
In the West Bank city of Nablus on Tuesday, Israeli soldiers shot dead a Palestinian during what a military source described as an army operation.
The source said the troops fired at armed men who approached them, hitting two. Palestinian security officials said the soldiers shot at stone-throwers, killing Salim Qusa, 18.
Earlier, Israeli security sources said Israel had suspended a plan to allow Palestinian police in the West Bank to carry arms for the first time in more than three years to deal with internal Palestinian unrest.
Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz agreed last Thursday to let some police carry handguns as requested by the Palestinian Authority, which says armed officers are needed to curb lawlessness after a wave of factional strife and kidnappings.
But the plan will not be put into action until security chiefs decide whether it risks Israeli lives, the sources said, after Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ran into resistance from rightist cabinet ministers, who also oppose the Gaza pullout.
Israel banned Palestinian security members from carrying weapons after accusing them of involvement in the violence.