Nine killed in Israeli tank raids on Gaza

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The Independent Online

Nine Palestinians - including a 13-year-old boy - were killed yesterday when Israeli tanks backed by helicopter gunfire raided Northern Gaza in response to rocket-attack reprisals for last Saturday's assassination of the Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantissi.

Nine Palestinians - including a 13-year-old boy - were killed yesterday when Israeli tanks backed by helicopter gunfire raided Northern Gaza in response to rocket-attack reprisals for last Saturday's assassination of the Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantissi.

The Israeli Army had earlier indicated it had moved into the town of Beit Lahiya to stop what had been a surge in Qassam rocket attacks against Israeli settlements near Gaza, which injured at least nine Israelis. At least four of those Palestinians killed in retaliation were believed to be gunmen. Another 40 were wounded.

The army said troops had come under heavy fire from rifles, grenades, anti-tank rockets and stones. Among those killed was a local leader of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, which is linked to Yasser Arafat's Fatah. The raid came only a day after four Palestinians were killed and 25 wounded when the Israelis raided the same area.

As the Palestinian minister Saab Erekat accused Israel of a "massive escalation" in the conflict, a senior EU official entered the dispute over US concessions to Ariel Sharon in return for his withdrawal from Gaza - including acceptance that Israel would not have to conform with pre-1967 borders.

EU external affairs commissioner Chris Patten expressed doubts over whether the Bush-Sharon accord was as positive a development as Mr Bush had claimed.

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