Israel kills 5 Gazans after renewed Hamas threat
Israeli air strikes killed five Palestinians in Gaza Thursday after Hamas militants renewed threats to rain rockets on nearby Israel despite a massive 16-day-old army offensive aimed at crushing them.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon seeks a decisive triumph over militants to overcome rightist opposition to his plan to "disengage" from conflict with Palestinians by evacuating all Jewish settlers from Gaza and a few from the West Bank in 2005.
Missiles killed two Hamas gunmen in the sprawling urban Jabalya refugee camp in north Gaza stormed by more than 200 tanks and troop carriers after a Hamas rocket killed two toddlers across the border in Israel on Sept. 29.
Helicopters backing up a separate army sweep into Rafah refugee camp in Gaza's far south fired three missiles, killing two militants and a civilian man of 70, local medics and residents said. A woman was seriously wounded.
Military sources said Israeli forces targeted gunmen who had just launched an anti-tank rocket at troops operating to uncover tunnels used to smuggle in weapons from nearby Egypt.
Witnesses said Israeli troops with armored bulldozers also demolished about 20 houses before withdrawing at around daybreak from Rafah, like Jabalya a frequent tinderbox in a four-year-old Palestinian revolt against Israel.
Israeli forces frequently raze Palestinian buildings they say harbor militants who fire at them or, in Rafah's case, are used as outlets for arms-smuggling tunnels. Palestinians denounced the practice as collective punishment.
Israel's north Gaza incursion, its biggest inside the desert territory since a Palestinian revolt began in 2000, has killed at least 100 Palestinians. At least 57 were militants and most of the rest believed to be civilians, medics say.
Israel says the great bulk of Palestinian dead were gunmen.
Three Israelis and a Thai farmworker in one of Israel's isolated Jewish settlements in Gaza have also been killed.
Gaza militants have cranked up gun, rocket and mortar attacks of late, hoping to portray any Israeli retreat from territories occupied in the 1967 Middle East war as a victory.
Sharon is determined to batter them into quiescence first and intends to hold onto swathes of the West Bank with most of the 240,000 settlers as a tradeoff for dumping smaller Gaza.
Polls show most Israelis support Sharon's strategy, regarding Gaza as too costly in lives and money.
But nationalists inside and outside Sharon's fraying right-wing coalition see any pullback as appeasement of "Palestinian terrorism," and hard-line settlers planned a series of street rallies around Israel later Thursday.
Sharon, trying to erode rightist resistance before an Oct. 25 parliament vote on "disengagement," has promised to press on with the north Gaza offensive against Hamas rocket squads.