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 Friday, 24 January, 2003, 22:35 GMT
Israel strikes hard at Gaza
Palestinian boy taunts tank in Beit Hanoun
Israel is literally cutting off Beit Hanoun
Israeli tanks and bulldozers have moved into the Palestinian town of Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip in an extensive military operation just before Israel's general election.

Troops shot dead a Palestinian youth as they entered the town, Palestinian sources said. They also demolished bridges.

Israeli policeman takes away remains of Palestinian rocket in Sderot
These operations will shake up the sector from where rockets were fired

Shaul Mofaz
Israeli defence minister
In all, four Palestinians are believed to have been killed in clashes across the occupied territories on Friday after a night of Palestinian attacks in which three Israeli soldiers died.

Troops entering Beit Hanoun met with fierce resistance and 20 Palestinians were wounded in gun battles along with the 16-year-old who was reported killed.

The town was said to be in darkness on Friday night after troops destroyed the main electrical generator.

Israeli Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz announced earlier in the day that operations would be launched in the north of the Gaza Strip to end Qassam-2 rocket attacks launched from the Beit Hanoun area.

"These operations will shake up the sector from where rockets were fired and will hit the terrorist infrastructure," he said on Israeli radio.

Rockets claimed by the militant group Hamas landed in the southern Israeli town of Sderot overnight, causing damage but no injuries.

An unconfirmed Palestinian report said that a second man was killed by Israeli troops on Friday at the Maghazi refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip.

The man was said to be suffering from mental illness.

Searches

In the West Bank, troops killed a man and a woman near Nablus after reportedly coming under fire.

They said they had arrested a third person wearing an explosives belt at the scene. A fourth person escaped.

Israeli forces were also conducting searches in the Hebron area after an ambush on Thursday near the Jewish settlement of Beit Haggai left three soldiers dead.

Two radical Palestinian groups say they carried out the attack - the armed wing of Hamas and the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, linked to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction.

Hardliners

The flare-up in violence comes just days before Israelis vote in an election that the hard-line Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, seems certain to win.

Mr Sharon is running for re-election on a platform of no negotiations with the Palestinians while militant attacks continue and tough military reprisals.

He is currently predicted to defeat the new leader of the Labour Party, Amram Mitzna, who has pledged to withdraw from the Gaza Strip within a year.

In another development on Friday, Palestinian militant groups began talks in Cairo on an Egyptian initiative to end attacks on Israeli civilians.

However Hamas and another militant group, Islamic Jihad, have already ruled out accepting any moratorium.

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's Barbara Plett
"The gunmen hit their target despite a tight security clampdown"
  Ranaan Gissin, senior advisor to Ariel Sharon
"We are witnessing the stepped up terrorist campaign instigated by the Palestinian Authority"

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24 Jan 03 | Middle East
12 Feb 02 | Middle East
24 Jan 03 | Middle East
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