The Other Front

Israeli Troops Move Into Gaza Again

Mariam el-Selgawi fled her home with her eight children and elderly in-laws on Wednesday when Israeli rockets landed near their home in Gaza. They fled again Sunday when Israel struck near the school where they were staying.
Mariam el-Selgawi fled her home with her eight children and elderly in-laws on Wednesday when Israeli rockets landed near their home in Gaza. They fled again Sunday when Israel struck near the school where they were staying. (By John Ward Anderson -- The Washington Post)

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By John Ward Anderson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, July 17, 2006

BEIT HANOUN, Gaza Strip, July 17 -- The Israeli military returned to the northern Gaza Strip early Sunday, taking up positions outside this farming community and periodically firing tank shells and artillery rounds for much of the day, killing five people and injuring at least 30.

It was not supposed to be this way, said Humaid Abu Akel, 40, recalling the celebrated troop withdrawal last year that ended Israel's occupation of this thin strip of land on the Mediterranean coast.

"We were so happy," Akel said. "We said, 'This is over, and now everything is going to be okay.' I have 10 kids, and I want to raise them. And now we're frustrated and angry."

Israeli tanks and bulldozers had entered northern Gaza early in July after Palestinian gunmen captured an Israeli soldier on June 25. Those forces withdrew about a week ago.

Akel's family was one of 10 that were forced to move from their homes in a farming area outside Beit Hanoun on Wednesday, after Israeli artillery shells landed near them and sprayed the area with shrapnel, injuring two people. Some of the homes, constructed with tin drums as walls, are less than 2,000 feet from the border with Israel.

Early Sunday, the families awoke to the sound of Israeli tanks, helicopters, explosions and small-arms fire directly outside the school where they had found shelter for several nights, and they were forced to move again, to a school in nearby Jabalya.

Mariam el-Selgawi, a neighbor who fled her home with her eight children and elderly in-laws, said she knows why the Israelis are back.

"Because of the rockets, everyone is launching rockets" from the agricultural areas inside the Gaza Strip over the border at Israeli towns, she said. "Days before, there was a group trying to shoot a rocket, and they were hit by a missile from a drone, and all of them died.

"All the time I get in fights with them when they come. They know it will bring Israel back to the area," she complained of the Palestinians firing the projectiles. "The last time I said: 'The Israelis are going to come and kill us. Aren't you afraid you're going to make us orphans?' And one of them said: 'We will launch the rockets from your house. You deserve it,' " and they fired it from outside her fence, she said.

Her father-in-law, Ali el-Selgawi, 76, sat forlornly on the linoleum schoolroom floor that is the family's latest bed, sipping juice and shaking his head. "You can't talk to them, or they just hit you," he said.

Mariam el-Selgawi added that the capture of the Israeli soldier -- and the militants' bid to use him in a prisoner swap -- was a big mistake. "It allowed the Israelis to come back in," she said.

An Israeli military spokeswoman said the army's incursion was "part of an ongoing effort to bring back the kidnapped soldier and focus on the terror organizations and infrastructure that is launching rockets against Israel." She would not say how many troops were involved or how long they would remain in Gaza.

Early Monday, Israeli warplanes bombed the Palestinian Foreign Ministry building in Gaza City, injuring at least nine people.

During the operation Sunday, which began before dawn, Israeli forces targeted several groups of Palestinian fighters, one of which had fired an anti-tank missile at an Israeli vehicle, the spokeswoman said. The military wing of the Islamic group Hamas, which runs the Palestinian government, said three of its members were killed. Another group, the Popular Resistance Committees, said two of its fighters were killed and two critically injured by a drone-launched missile late Sunday afternoon.

Two journalists, including an Italian, were also injured in the fighting, hospital officials said.


© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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