Creating people's geographies
By GREG MYRE | NY Times
JERUSALEM, Nov. 1 — Israeli troops in tanks and on foot staged one of the largest raids into the Gaza Strip in recent months, killing six Palestinians and wounding more than 30 in gun battles with militants that began before dawn today and lasted much of the day. One Israeli soldier was also killed.
The Israeli soldiers, backed by helicopters, exchanged fire with Palestinian militants in the northern Gaza farming town of Beit Hanun, the launching ground for many of the Palestinian rockets that have been fired into southern Israel.
As the two sides battled, the security cabinet of the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, met in Jerusalem and debated whether to step up the four-month-old military operations in Gaza. In recent weeks, some senior political and military figures have expressed support for expanded operations aimed at halting Palestinian rocket fire in northern Gaza and rooting out weapons-smuggling tunnels on Gaza’s southern border with Egypt.
However, the security cabinet chose not to escalate military actions, at least for now. In a statement, the security cabinet said the military would continue the “current security activity and increase the pressure on Hamas and the other terrorist organizations.”
Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the far-right Israel Beiteinu party, which has just joined the government coalition, said the military should take a much tougher approach, according to Israel radio.
However, Israel’s defense minister, Amir Peretz, who leads the left-leaning Labor Party, was opposed to expanding the military operations, and his position carried the day.
“There is no intention to carry out operations for show, or operations to appease public opinion, but only defined operations whose goal is clear, whose purpose is not only deserving but necessary,” Mr. Peretz said.
Still, the Israeli incursion was one of the most wide-ranging since the Israeli military re-entered Gaza. The Israeli military pulled out of Gaza in September 2005, but returned at the end of June, following the capture of an Israeli soldier, Corp. Gilad Shalit, who was taken into the territory.
Today’s operation, like many that preceded it, involved dozens of Israeli tanks and other armored vehicles. In addition, hundreds of infantry soldiers entered the territory on foot, which is much less common.
Most of the fighting was on the outskirts of Beit Hanun, in the northeast corner of Gaza. The six Palestinians who were killed included five militants and a member of the security forces. Most of the wounded also were militants, though some civilians were hurt as well, according to Palestinian security officials and medical workers.
The Israeli military said its forces came under fire from Palestinians with automatic rifles and anti-tank missiles. Israeli troops took up positions on the rooftops of Palestinian homes. Helicopters and drones flew overhead, and carried out occasional strikes. The Palestinians still managed to fire several rockets into southern Israel, lightly injuring one civilian, the military said.
Rami Hamad, a 24-year-old Hamas militant who was injured, said he was shot in the leg while trying to reach a fellow militant, Ahmad Saadat, who died.
“They have the sophisticated military power, but in our religion it says, ‘prepare whatever you have to confront the enemy,’ ” Mr. Hamad said at Kamal Adwan Hospital, where he was being treated. “Holy war is an obligation.”
At the hospital morgue, Yousef Saadat, 43, wept as he learned that his son, Ahmad Saadat, had been killed. Mr. Saadat said he had urged his son to finish school and become a teacher, which he did. But Ahmad Saadat still insisted on becoming a militant.
“He refused to get married,” Mr. Saadat said of his son. “He spent his time preparing for martyrdom.”
The Israeli forces closed off the entrances and exits to Beit Hanun, and it was not clear how long they intended to remain in the area. In recent months, the Israeli raids have typically lasted a day or two before the forces pulled back.
Since the Israeli troops returned to Gaza four months ago, more than 250 Palestinians have been killed, including both militants and civilians, according to monitoring groups. Three Israeli soldiers have died.
Meanwhile, in the latest measure of the Palestinian economic crisis, Palestinian government revenue has fallen by 60 percent since Hamas, the radical Islamic group, came to power in March, the International Monetary Fund said in a new report.
The Palestinian Authority’s revenue for the April-September period was $500 million, down from $1.2 billion during the same period a year earlier, the report said.
Israel, the European Union and the United States all classify Hamas as a terrorist group, and all of them moved to cut off the flow of money to the government when Hamas took over. As a result, the Palestinian Authority has only partly and sporadically paid salaries to government workers.
“After paying wages and energy bills, very little was left over for other operating expenses,” the report said.
The sharp drop in government revenue was partially offset by increased assistance received from abroad by nongovernmental groups in the Palestinian territories. Aid for the April-September period was $420 million, up from $230 million a year earlier. Still, the overall economy has been contracting rapidly in recent months, according to numerous reports.
Taghreed El-Khodary contributed reporting from Beit Hanun, Gaza Strip.