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Israeli copters pound Gaza after woman's death
Updated: 2005-07-15 09:31

Israeli helicopters fired missiles at five Palestinian targets in Gaza early on Friday in Israel's most intensive series of air raids since a five-month-old truce took hold in February.

The raids followed a Palestinian rocket strike that killed a 22-year-old Israeli woman in a collective farm on Thursday and sparked the worst fighting between Palestinian militants and police trying to stop further barrages.

The rocket volley was a setback for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who had arrived in Gaza shortly beforehand to press militants to stick to their pledge of "calm" critical to hopes of reviving Middle East peacemaking.

Israeli copters pound Gaza after woman's death
Palestinian men check the damage after Israeli helicopters fired missiles in Gaza city July 15, 2005. Israeli helicopters fired missiles in three separate air raids in the Gaza Strip early on July 15, witnesses said. [Reuters]
It also embarrassed Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon who has been keen to keep the Gaza Strip quiet ahead of a planned withdrawal of Jewish settlers from the occupied territory next month.

Israel has vowed to act with full force against anything that would disrupt the pullout.

Militants said the rocket attack avenged the killing of a militant leader in an Israeli army raid into the West Bank city of Nablus, part of an offensive after a Palestinian suicide bomber killed five Israelis on Tuesday.

In Gaza City, a helicopter missile destroyed a pro-Hamas charity, witnesses said. Another rocket struck a weapons depot in Khan Younis, the Israeli army said.

A third Israeli rocket fell near the sea in central Gaza while two successive strikes afterwards hit a metal foundry and a storage room in a home in central Gaza, witnesses said.

There were no reports of casualties in the raids that damaged some buildings and created great panic, sending people screaming into the streets.

The Israeli army said it was "determined to continue operating against any terror organization and those who assist them."

Militants responded to the raids with repeated predawn mortar barrages on Jewish settlements in Gaza, settlers said. There were no reports of casualties.

Separately, a military statement said that Gaza would be "cut into three parts," effectively blocking main roads to Palestinian travel.


Hamas militants fought Palestinian police who raided rocket launching sites to stop further attacks. Hours of gunbattles ensued in which militants fired machine guns, hurled grenades and torched four Palestinian police vehicles.

Five militants and two passersby were wounded in the clashes that put Palestinian police on an emergency footing. The fighting subsided after Israel launched its air raids but hundreds of Palestinian police later patrolled Gaza's streets.

The fighting was the worst among Palestinians since the mid-1990s when Palestinian police killed more than a dozen protesters in clashes with stone-throwers outside a Hamas-stronghold mosque.

Abbas had ordered his aides to silence the rockets as Israel vowed to act on its own to stop the latest attacks.

"Our response will be swift and effective," Raanan Gissin, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, told Reuters. "The Palestinian Authority is not doing anything to stop these rockets."

"Until they take real steps to dismantle terrorist infrastructure and the industry that manufactures these rockets, we will feel free to take whatever action is necessary to stop these attacks," Gissin said.

Any serious resurgence of violence could complicate Israel's planned withdrawal from Gaza and a small part of the West Bank next month -- its first evacuation of settlers from territory captured in a 1967 war and which Palestinians want for a state.

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