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Thursday, 10 January, 2002, 12:54 GMT
Israelis demolish Gaza houses
Israeli troops pass bodies of the two Palestinian gunmen and their weapons
Israel suffered its first deaths in weeks
Israeli bulldozers and armoured vehicles have demolished houses in the Gaza Strip, following Wednesday's attack on an Israeli army post in the area, which left four Israeli soldiers dead.

The Palestinians said the bulldozers destroyed more than 30 houses in the Rafah refugee camp early on Thursday, leaving hundreds of people homeless.

Scene of a previous house demolition in Gaza
Israel has destroyed dozens of homes in the past 15 months
Following the operation, the military wing of Islamic Jihad announced that it was pulling out of an understanding with the Palestinian Authority to stop attacks in Israel.

The BBC's James Reynolds says the Israeli response to Wednesday's raid has been limited by recent standards because they want to keep attention focused on a shipload of weapons - intercepted in the Red Sea - which the Israelis say were destined for the Palestinian Authority.

'Arrests expected'

Rafah was home to the two assailants who killed the four soldiers, but Israeli sources said the house demolitions were not a direct retaliation for Wednesday's raid.

Israel said the buildings had been abandoned and were being used by smugglers and gunmen, but reporters saw weeping people sifting through huge piles of rubble in heavy rain, trying to recover their belongings.

Israeli troops tend to injured comrade
The Israeli troops killed were all Bedouin Arabs
The Islamic militant group Hamas said it had carried out the raid.

Last month, Hamas said it would comply with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's call for a truce and would suspend attacks within Israel.

There has been no official announcement by Hamas that it was pulling out of the agreement, but the raid on Wednesday ended a period of relative quiet, amid intense US efforts to kick start a stalled peace process.

The Palestinian Authority has condemned the attack.

A Palestinian official told the Israeli news website Ynet that arrests of Hamas members, including senior officials of the movements political wing, could be expected.

'Compelling' evidence

There is concern among the Palestinian security services, however, that any such arrests would lead to violent clashes.

Ariel Sharon (centre) and others inspect arms from the intercepted ship
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon inspects arms from the intercepted ship
Hamas's military wing said Wednesday's attack was partly a response to Israel's seizure from "Arab waters" of the ship carrying 50 tonnes of Iranian-made weapons.

Mr Arafat has dismissed the charges of Palestinian Authority involvement in the shipment as an Israeli "invention", but US Secretary of State Colin Powell has now asked the Palestinian leader for an urgent explanation.

US officials said there was a "very compelling" case that senior Palestinian officials, including Mr Arafat, were involved in the shipment.

The BBC's James Reynolds
"Palestinians say they have nothing to do with the arms shipment"
The BBC's Barbara Plett
"Jihad has made a new announcement"
See also:

09 Jan 02 | Middle East
Mid-East peace moves threatened
07 Jan 02 | Middle East
Arms ship 'owned by Iraqi'
06 Jan 02 | Middle East
US envoy optimistic over Mid-East talks
29 Nov 01 | key documents
The Mitchell report
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