Israeli raid in Gaza Strip; U.S. to host ''Quartet'' conference despite Israel objection
Israeli tanks backed by helicopter gunships moved into the central Gaza Strip town of Deir al-Balah on Tuesday, battling Palestinian fighters and demolishing the home of a wanted activist, witnesses and security sources said, according to Reuters.
Several dozen tanks and armored vehicles rolled into Deir al-Balah, near a bloc of Jewish settlements, under cover of darkness as helicopters hovered overhead, witnesses said.
They said Israeli forces exchanged heavy fire with Palestinians in the town's refugee camp. Hospital officials said at least one Palestinian was wounded. Israeli troops blew up the home of a member in Hamas, who had been wanted by Israel for several years, residents said.
The Israeli army said it had arrested 25 Palestinians during overnight raids in the West Bank, including a military official from Fatah.
In Bethlehem, Israeli troops scaled back their presence on Monday after detaining dozens of Palestinians, witnesses said.
The army said it had arrested 40 Palestinians, including five would-be suicide bombers, in Bethlehem.
Meanwhile, the Bush administration said Monday it would host a conference of U.S., U.N., Russian and European officials next month with the goal of developing a roadmap for Mideast peacemaking.
Still, progress toward establishing a Palestinian state in 2005 is impossible while suicide bombers are active, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.
Last week's bus bombing in Jerusalem was "particularly bad," Boucher said. At the same time, Boucher registered concern that Israel's response was claiming civilian casualties, including British U.N. official Iain Hook, who was shot by Israeli troops last Friday in the West Bank town of Jenin.
With all the violence, the administration decided to go ahead with a meeting of the so-called Quartet in Washington on Dec. 20.
Besides working on details of a pathway to Palestinian statehood, the conference is expected to consider ways of promoting reform within the Palestinian leadership. Secretary of State Colin Powell will host the meeting, with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moller and Javier Solana of the European Union expected to attend.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon sent a deputy, Natan Sharansky, to Washington earlier this month to tell Vice President Dick Cheney and Powell that peacemaking should be deferred until the Palestinian Authority moves toward reform.
At a minimum, Sharansky said, peace efforts should be put on hold until Israel and the Palestinians hold elections in January. (Albawaba.com)
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