At Least 13 Palestinians Killed As Israeli Military Enters Gaza

By Scott Wilson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, June 28, 2007

JERUSALEM, June 27 -- Israeli forces killed at least 13 Palestinians on Wednesday and wounded more than 40 others in ground fighting backed by tanks and air support during military operations across the Gaza Strip.

Most of those killed, Palestinian health officials said, belonged to militias that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of the secular Fatah party is moving to disarm following the intense factional fighting this month that left Gaza in the hands of Hamas.

But also among the dead was 12-year-old Sami al-Manasrah, who witnesses said was killed in fighting between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian gunmen in the Shajaiyeh neighborhood of Gaza City.

The Israeli operations came a day after Abbas issued a decree disbanding all Palestinian militias, including the one affiliated with his own party; Hamas officials in Gaza said they would not abide by the edict. He also ordered all Palestinians carrying guns or explosives to have government-issued permits to do so, a step designed to improve law and order in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The Israeli government has demanded that Abbas crack down on the militias, which it refers to as "terrorist infrastructure," to meet his obligations under the U.S.-backed peace blueprint known as the "road map," a largely defunct effort that promised a Palestinian state by 2005.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert also pledged in a meeting this week with Abbas that he would release some Palestinian tax revenue held by Israel, free 250 Fatah prisoners, and reduce the number of West Bank military checkpoints and roadblocks. The moves are aimed at improving the president's political standing following Hamas's rout of Fatah forces in Gaza.

But advisers to Abbas said Wednesday that the Israeli incursion undermined his ability to disarm the militias in the West Bank and Gaza, where Hamas is running a parallel government after refusing to recognize Abbas's order dissolving the cabinet.

Hamas, formally known as the Islamic Resistance Movement, does not recognize Israel's right to exist. Israel considers Hamas a terrorist organization.

On the streets of Gaza, Hamas and Fatah gunmen joined forces against Israeli troops for the first time since the factions fought a five-day battle that culminated June 14 with Hamas taking control of the strip. Abbas condemned Israel's operation and asked the United Nations to call on the government to end it.

"It's madness what's going on," said Yasser Abed Rabbo, a senior adviser to Abbas. "It gives all the militias in Gaza an excuse to reject Abbas's decree to dissolve them and collect their weapons. No one will abide by it now."

Since Hamas's takeover this month, the Israeli government has pledged to allow humanitarian aid into the strip in an attempt to avoid a crisis for the 1.4 million people who live there.

But Tzachi Hanegbi, chairman of the Israeli parliament's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, told Israel Radio on Wednesday that "we are not building a relationship of trust with the people in Gaza. Just the opposite. Our relations are one of confrontation."

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