Israeli forces launch new Gaza operation


Israeli tanks rumbled into the northern Gaza Strip today to try to stop cross-border rocket attacks described by front-running Palestinian presidential candidate Mr Mahmoud Abbas as useless.

The offensive into the town of Beit Hanoun began just hours after Israeli forces ended a three-day-long incursion into Khan Younis refugee camp in southern Gaza aimed at halting mortar and rocket attacks by militants against nearby Jewish settlements.

The violence, a week before Palestinians elect a successor to Yasser Arafat, posed a particular challenge to Mr Abbas, who has called for a resumption of peace talks with Israel under a US-backed "road map" and an end to bloodshed.

Mr Abbas said yesterday that the rocket attacks against Israelis were counterproductive because they drew strong retaliation. But militants vowed to continue them.

Today's raid began after two rockets hit the southern Israeli town of Sderot, wounding a woman. Later, mortar bombs wounded two men in an Israeli industrial zone on the border with Gaza. Israeli forces carried out a 16-day offensive in northern Gaza in October, killing at least 100 Palestinians to try and stop rocket fire into Israel.

Violence in Gaza has escalated in the run-up to a planned Israeli pullout from the occupied territory by the end of 2005. Militants hope to portray an Israeli withdrawal as a victory, while Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has pledged tough action to ensure settlers and troops do not leave Gaza under Palestinian fire.