GAZA (Reuters)–Israeli forces backed by helicopter gunships swooped on three Gaza refugee camps on Thursday after killing four Palestinians who the army said were on their way to attack Jewish settlemen’s.
In a separate incident–police said they killed an armed Palestinian who broke into a home in the Israeli village of Maor–five km (three miles) from the West Bank. An Israeli couple in the house escaped when the intruder’s rifle jammed.
The army said it sent infantry and armor backed by assault helicopters–into the Nusairat–Bureij and Maghazi refugee camps in the central Gaza Strip. The raids lasted several hours.
The camps are strongholds of Palestinian militants who have waged a campaign of suicide bombings and ambush shootings as part of an uprising for a Palestinian state.
Ambulance workers said several Palestinians were wounded.
Palestinians obtained self-rule in parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip under interim peace deals in 1994-95 but negotiations on a state broke down in mid-2000.
The fresh violence disregarded US calls for calm in the 27-month-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict to avoid complicating Washington’s plans for a possible war on Iraq.
A top Palestinian human rights activist–Mustafa Barghouthi–called on Thursday for a "mass international presence on the ground" to protect Palestinians from Israeli attack if the United States strikes Iraq. KILLINGS
Five Palestinians were killed overnight in what the army said were three separate attempts to attack Israelis–and on Thursday Israeli police discovered the scorched body of a missing 70-year-old man after a massive search in the West Bank.
Masoud Elon’s corpse was found in a valley near the West Bank Jewish settlement of Bekaot following a claim of responsibility for his death on Wednesday evening by the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades–an offshoot of Yasser Arafat’s Fatah faction.
The group said in a statement released on the Lebanese Hizbollah’s al-Manar television station it had killed a "Jewish settler" in the Bekaot area to avenge the killing of a Palestinian by soldiers.
Elon’s family said the elderly man would frequently travel from his home in northern Israel into the West Bank to hand out clothes to Palestinian laborers and buy citrus fruits.
"The children would run after him and he would give them candies. He wasn’t selling them anything–or doing business–he just did it to pass the time," his son Yakov told Israel Radio.
On Wednesday night–troops shot dead three Palestinian youths–one aged 15 and the other two 16–who they said had been trying to attack a Jewish settlement in northern Gaza.
The army also said it killed a militant on his way to bomb a settlement in the West Bank. "Thank God he got what he always dreamt of – martyrdom," Atteya Dawass–the father of one of the Gaza youngsters–said at their funeral.
Dawass said his son Mohammed had been driven to despair by Israeli military actions against Palestinians during the revolt and decided to avenge his people with a suicide mission.
"Kids of their age should be playing in the streets or with computers but Israel has deprived our children of every joy of life," he said.
A senior Israeli said the three youths had been spotted climbing a fence protecting the Jewish settlement of Elei Sinai.
"They were dressed in dark civilian clothes and advancing in a crouch–commando-style," said Colonel Ofer Shafran. "We found two wire-cutters and a knife on their bodies."
Palestinian security sources and the youths’ relatives said they had apparently acted independently–and had no known affiliations with militant groups.
In another incident–police killed an armed Palestinian who broke into a home in the Israeli village of Maor–five km (three miles) from the porous boundary with the West Bank.
The owner of the home–Swiss immigrant Roland Mori–said the intruder got off one wild shot before his rifle jammed.
"I shouted to my wife–in French–to flee and I immediately began to throw everything I found on the living room table at the terrorist," Mori told reporters.
He said his wife jumped out of a bedroom window and he ran out of the front door–leaving the gunman inside.
At least 1,760 Palestinians and 676 Israelis have been killed since the uprising began.