Israelis kill three in Gaza raids

Three Palestinians were killed in fighting as Israeli raids on a Gaza Strip refugee camp continued yesterday. Among them was a woman civilian, killed when the car she was travelling in came under Israeli fire, according to witnesses. The other two Palestinians killed were believed to be militants: one was identified as a local leader of the militant group Hamas.

Fourteen Palestinians have been killed since the raids on the refugee camps around Rafah, in southern Gaza, began more than a week ago - among them two children aged eight and 12. In the first raid alone, after which the Israeli army withdrew for a few days, 114 homes were demolished by Israeli army bulldozers, leaving 1,240 people homeless, according to Unrwa, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.

The Israeli army says the aim of the raids is to find and destroy tunnels under the nearby Egyptian border that are used by Palestinian militants to smuggle in weapons.

The Israeli military has also been demolishing Palestinian homes near the border, in an effort to force the refugee camps back from the border and create a buffer zone. One aim of the raids may be to accelerate this process.

In yesterday's violence, Hamas militants attempted a counter-attack on Israeli soldiers who have taken over areas of the camps. According to reports from Rafah, they laid explosives along routes used by Israeli tanks. Independent confirmation is difficult because the area has been sealed off by the Israeli military.

Israeli soldiers were reported to have spotted the militants and opened fire. In the ensuing gunfight, Tariq abu Hussein, a local Hamas leader, and Hussam Mughier, another Hamas militant, were killed and at least 10 people wounded. At this point, according to reports, local civilians came in a car to try to take the wounded to hospital, because access is often denied to ambulances. Israeli soldiers opened fire on the car with a machine-gun, and, according to witnesses, a tank shell. Twenty-eight-year-old Widad Ajrami was killed and her husband and brother-in-law wounded, a relative said.

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