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Israeli raid demolishes 2 houses despite rare US call for restraint

Authorities also step up measures against peace activists

Compiled by Daily Star staff

Israeli armor staged a brief incursion in the Palestinian territories, demolishing two houses Friday as Washington issued a rare call on its ally to stem the civilian deaths.

Separately, Israel said it was stepping up the detention and deportation of pro-Palestinian foreign peace activists and will try to block new “human shields” from entering the country, Israeli security sources said Friday.

The Haaretz daily reported that top Israeli brass and Foreign Ministry officials met this week to discuss the means of expelling foreign activists, the newspaper reported.

A Foreign Ministry spokesman confirmed that meetings had been held but said no decision had yet been reached.

“We discussed the issue of these so-called pacifists, who are in closed military zones where they are not allowed and are putting their own lives at risk,” the spokesman said.

Activists from the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) have been in the news several times recently, especially in the Gaza Strip’s southern border city of Rafah.

In the first sign of the new crackdown, a member of the pro-Palestinian International Solidarity Movement (ISM) was detained by Israeli troops in the southern Gaza refugee camp of Rafah on Thursday.

Military sources said the woman activist was sleeping in a house suspected of concealing one of the tunnels used by militants to smuggle arms from nearby Egypt, and her case was being handled by the Foreign Ministry.

A spokesman for the ISM said at least 30 of its members had been deported by Israel since last year, while several others had deportation orders overturned in Israeli courts.

Hundreds of suspected activists have been turned away on arrival at Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion International Airport, under government directives, since the uprising began in September 2000, Israeli officials said.

“These foreigners, for all their good intentions, end up being used as cover for terrorism,” one source said. “An added concern now is that terrorists could try to enter Israel under the guise of ‘peace activist.’”

British newspapers reported that a British Muslim suicide bomber who killed three people at a Tel Aviv nightclub on Wednesday and a suspected British accomplice who fled had posed as peace activists when they crossed between Gaza and Israel.

The British Airports Authority said that suicide bomber Assif Mohammed Hanif worked for two years at a newspaper stand in London’s Heathrow Airport from August 1998 to December 2000.

The second man, Omar Khan Sharif, was still being sought on Friday.

Israeli media quoted a senior army officer as saying that the suicide bombing was probably planned outside Israel.

In the West Bank, meanwhile, troops backed by tanks moved into the northern city of Tulkarem and the adjacent refugee camp, Palestinian security sources said.

The army also dynamited the houses of two Palestinian militants killed earlier this week in a foiled attack on a wildcat settlement near the city of Nablus, sources on both sides.

In pre-dawn sweeps across the territories, the army also arrested 22 Palestinians, 10 in the West Bank and 12 in the Gaza Strip, the army said.

The army withdrew in the morning and lifted the curfew on all the West Bank cities it has reoccupied for almost a year.

The smoldering violence came a day after a massive Israeli raid into the Gaza Strip aimed at a senior leader of the radical Islamist movement Hamas killed him and 11 other Palestinians.

“We deeply regret the civilian casualties that occurred today in Gaza and we urge the Israeli government to take all appropriate precautions to prevent the death or injury of innocent civilians and damage to civilian and humanitarian infrastructures,” said a State Department spokeswoman.

France also fiercely criticized Israel for the Gaza raid stressing the need to implement a road map for peace.

“France deeply deplores the operation carried out in Gaza on May 1 by the Israel Army. We send our condolences to the families of the civilians killed during this operation,” foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero told a news conference.

“Now that the (Middle East) road map, which sets out a stringent road toward peace, has been submitted to the parties, it is more than ever necessary to ensure that everyone’s efforts converge on achieving this goal,” Valero said. _ Agencies

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