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Friday, 13 September, 2002, 08:33 GMT 09:33 UK
Israeli tanks raid Gaza town
Palestinians sift through the rubble of their homes following an earlier Israeli strike in Gaza last month
Israeli incursions have been common in recent months
One Palestinian has been killed and several others injured in an Israeli raid on the Gazan town of Rafah.

Palestinian security officials said at least 25 armoured vehicles, supported by helicopters and bulldozers, rolled into the Palestinian-ruled area near the border with Egypt.

One of the helicopters fired a missile, and several metal workshops and 20 houses were badly damaged, Palestinian witnesses said.

A gunman from the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade - linked to Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement - was killed and six other Palestinians were injured in a fierce gun battle, Palestinian doctors said.

Palestinian woman is questioned by Israeli soldiers
Critics say military restrictions in West Bank towns hamper democratic elections
The Israeli army said forces had withdrawn after arresting several suspected militants and blowing up six workshops used to manufacture rockets and mortars.

The army said the troops had been attacked with small arms, grenades and at least one rocket.

Khalid Abdullah, 34, said his house had been destroyed in the operation.

"I took my five children and my wife and we spent all night in the street," he told the Associated Press news agency.

The raid came the morning after a rocket was fired at an Israeli village about four kilometres (two miles) from the edge of the Gaza strip.

'Bethlehem first'

Hours earlier, about 10 Israeli army tanks entered the West Bank town of Tulkarem, witnesses said.

The town is one of six Palestinian population centres which have been under Israeli military control since a spate of Palestinian suicide attacks in mid-June.

Under a recent deal, Israel agreed to scale down their military presence in Gaza and Bethlehem. In return, the Palestinian security forces were to do more to rein in the militants.

Israel has only withdrawn forces from Bethlehem so far.

It has staged three raids on Gazan towns and refugee camps this week, pointing to continued Palestinian attacks on Israeli army positions, settlers and villages in or near the Gaza strip.

Arafat's crisis

The incursions come a few days after the resignation of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's cabinet, just before the parliament was set to pass a vote of no confidence.

Yasser Arafat
Mr Arafat has announced a date for elections
The Palestinian leader must now present a new cabinet to parliament within two weeks.

BBC correspondent Peter Biles says that the Palestinian leadership wants to portray the parliamentary rebuff to Mr Arafat as evidence of a new era of democracy for the Palestinians.

But Palestinian critics and Israel say the resignation is a severe blow to Mr Arafat.

On Wednesday, Mr Arafat set parliamentary and presidential elections for 20 January next year - the first since 1996.

Our correspondent says it is hard to see how there can be open democratic elections in just four months, given the military restrictions still imposed on Palestinians.

But they add the announcement of a date for the election could be used to try to push Israel to allow more freedom in Palestinian areas leading up to the vote.


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12 Sep 02 | Middle East
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