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September 26, 2002

As fight shifts to urban Gaza, risks rise for Israel

GAZA CITY - The Israeli siege of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's devastated office complex in the West Bank is now at the center of international attention.

But Israel appears to be incrementally opening a new front in Gaza City, taking the battle to the senior leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, who are based here.

Almost nightly, Israeli forces stage raids into this densely populated coastal city. Tuesday's attack – with helicopters, dozens of tanks and armored vehicles – was by far the largest and most dramatic in the two years since the intifada started.

Israeli troops moved a half-mile into the Zeitoun and Sajaiya neighborhoods, killing nine Palestinians. Six were civilians and three belonged to militant groups, according to hos- pital sources and family members. The raid's stated aim, however, was the destruction of 13 metal-working factories which the Israeli army said were making weaponry and the demolition of a house belonging to a slain Hamas militant.

But Israeli analysts point to a larger agenda: The raid, they say, signals that Gaza is likely to follow in the footsteps of the West Bank, whose cities have been reoccupied by Israeli forces and placed under protracted curfew. "I would say this is inevitable even though it will be a disaster for both sides," says Reuven Pedhatzur, a political scientist at Tel Aviv University. "This action was partly to prepare public opinion for a major attack and partly to say, 'We are doing something against terrorism.' "

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