Claim dozens hurt after gunship fired at demonstrators marching in the city; IDF: We only fired to deter armed activists, shells may have activated explosive devices. Palestinian eyewitnesses are reporting that approximately 20 Palestinian protestors were killed and another 70 were wounded after an IDF gunship fired at them in Rafah. Arab television stations report that most of the casualties are women and children. Earlier it was reported that five Palestinians were killed in the Tel al-Sultan neighborhood in the city. The Palestinians claim that a protest march comprised of Palestinian civilians was attacked en route to the Tel al-Sultan neighborhood. According to the report, thousands of Palestinians wishing to protect neighborhood residents took part in the march. An initial examination revealed that an IDF gunship identified armed Palestinians in the march approaching the Tel Sultan neighborhood. At some point, the gunship fired one missile towards an open space. Meanwhile, tanks fired shells at open areas to deter the armed activists, some of which were reportedly carrying RPG rocket launchers.
A military source told Maariv Online that a tank fired towards an abandoned structure and speculated that this could have activated explosive devices hidden in the area by Palestinians. Meanwhile, Islamic Jihad and Hamas operatives at the Tel-Sultan district have gone underground as forces are operating throughout the city. Soldiers are moving from house to house and calling on all terrorists to turn themselves in. Commenting on the operation so far, a senior security source said: „We told the soldiers to kill as many terrorists as possible”. The source said that in the past three months Israeli soldiers in Gaza had been exposed to a variety of combat attacks. „The amount of weaponry employed was unprecedented”, the source said, „and that’s why we have had to launch this operation without a time limit, until we achieve our objective”. Palestinian sources said that the number of their dead as a result of the IDF actions on Tuesday has reached 20. According to these reports, among the dead were three children, two of them a brother and sister. The Palestinians say also that 36 people were wounded. Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon disclosed that among the Palestinians killed were nine with well known names. He added: „I presume that the Rafah operation will not be for a day or two only, because we are carrying out a careful and thorough search”. We have had to take in Rafah because the city has become the gateway to terror. RPG rockets, which should not be in Palestinian hands at all – and they already have quite a few – are coming into the area via Rafah. In recent days there have been attempts to introduce other weapons positioned in the north eastern edge of Sinai along the Egyptian Israeli border – the source is Iran and the Hizbolah. After attempts to persuade the Palestinians to halt these actions, we decided to stop them ourselves”. In response to the criticism voiced abroad about the destruction of houses, the chief of staff said: „This isn’t a hobby of ours, demolishing homes. In one instance a house was destroyed in which we found explosive charges, and in two other cases buildings were demolished from where fire was directed at IDF forces. We have imposed a curfew on the neighborhoods where activity is taking place, but at the same time we have allowed food and water to be brought in for humanitarian reasons. Operation Rainbow began at 02.30 yesterday (Tuesday) morning with a joint infantry force made up of Givati and Golani units moving into the Tel el Sultan refugee camp. According to the Palestinians, the IDF isolated the neighborhood from other parts of Rafah. At the same time infantry troops and armored vehicles, with helicopter cover, came into Rafaj from the Philadelphi route in the south, which separates Gaza from the Sinai. As the operation began, fire was exchanged between IDF forces and armed Palestinians. By noon the Israelis were reporting that the frequency of Palestinian fire was diminishing. At this stage the troops identified a terror band that apparently planned to plant explosive charges at the entrance to a mosque. The soldiers opened fire, hitting the terrorists. Another band of four armed terrorists was encountered planning to place charges near one of the Israeli positions on the Philadelphi route. An air force helicopter fired at the four and reported a direct hit. The IDF forces continuing to move forward in the area, taking up positions in the Tel el Sultan neighborhood, to enable reinforcements to be brought up, and to establish a secure area. The soldiers are moving slowly for fear of explosive charges and of being ambushed. Until now the units have taken up positions in a number of abandoned houses from where fire was directed. At least three homes were destroyed by bulldozers. During the course of this IDF forces detained nine wanted men, including the man believed to be responsible for operating the network of tunnels used for smuggling weapons to the armed bands in Rafah. Since yesterday the Palestinians have been reporting that IDF soldiers have not allowed them to remove the bodies of dead Palestinians from the streets of Rafah. The Palestinians charge also that the IDF is firing at ambulances trying to evacuate wounded. The El Arabiya network carried a report today showing an ambulance team trying to evacuate the body of an armed terrorist and drawing fire from soldiers. Knesset Member Ahmed Tibi of the Hadash-United Arab List, speaking from the podium yesterday, appealed to the prime minister and to the IDF to remove the bodies of a brother and sister aged 16 and 11 who were killed in their home. Later Tibi was told by an aide to the defense minister that the bodies had been taken away. Earlier army sources explained that allowing Palestinian forces in to remove the bodies would have endangered IDF soldiers in the area, and until their safety could be ensured, the bodies would not be removed. Referring to the two dead children, an IDF source said that the matter was being investigated and at this stage it appeared that they were killed when terrorists in the area set off an explosive charge aimed at IDF forces. About 30 activists from „Bat Shalom” and the Women’s Coalition for Peace demonstrated at the Sufah junction in the Gaza Strip in protest against the IDF operation in Gaza. The demonstrators say they will set up a protest tent at the crossroads as long as the operation continues. BPI.