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Israel assault on Gaza kills nine

Gaza, Sept. 24 (Reuters): The Israeli army killed nine Palestinians today in one of its biggest raids in the Gaza Strip and faced international isolation over its siege of Yasser Arafat’s base after the UN Security Council said it must stop.

The United States abstained in the vote rather than veto it, signalling the growing impatience of Israel’s ally and the main West Asia peacebroker. Washington seeks calm in the region and Arab support for its preparations for possible war with Iraq.

Arafat said in a statement that his government welcomed the UN decision and urged quick implementation, while Israel said the demand that it stop was difficult to accept.

Dozens of tanks and armoured vehicles backed by helicopter gunships poured into two Gaza City suburbs hours after Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said the army, having besieged Arafat’s offices, could target the militant Islamic group Hamas next.

Gaza is the main powerbase of Hamas, which has carried out a wave of suicide bombings in the two-year-old Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation, including the attack last week which prompted the siege of Arafat’s Ramallah headquarters. The army said it blew up 13 metal workshops suspected of forming a makeshift weapons factory, as well as the family home of a militant. The workshop owners denied the allegations. A military source said some of the workshops made Qassam rockets, which Hamas has fired from Gaza into Israel.

The raid met fierce resistance and prompted gunfights. Palestinian hospital sources and families said six civilians and three militants were killed and more than 20 people hurt.

The army has frequently raided Gaza in recent weeks in its quest to put down the Palestinian uprising, but the clashes were particularly heavy and the death toll unusually high.

It was the bloodiest day in Gaza since Israel killed a Hamas military commander, his lieutenant and 14 civilians in an air strike on Gaza City on July 23.

Soldiers also destroyed a two-storey house belonging to the family of Mohammad Farhat, a militant who killed five people in a Jewish settlement in March before being shot dead.

Israeli media have criticised Sharon for doing little to rein in Hamas while besieging Arafat’s headquarters in response to two suicide bombings which killed seven people, both claimed by Islamic militant groups, one of them Hamas.

Troops have demolished most of Arafat’s presidential complex since last Thursday and penned him and more than 200 others into a single building as they press demands for the surrender of 50 suspected militants Israel says are also holed up inside. Today soldiers shouted through loudspeakers at the Palestinians inside the offices: “Peace be upon you. Turn yourselves in. It is better for you.”

The UN Security Council adopted a resolution demanding Israel end its siege of the compound, using a compromise European text that also called on the Palestinian Authority to bring those responsible for attacks to justice.

Arafat “stressed that the Palestinian Authority is committed to the decision with all its items, and it calls on the international community to compel Israel to implement the withdrawal and end the siege,” the statement said.

An Israeli foreign ministry statement said the decision was positive in “calling for an end to (Palestinian) terror and for putting terrorists on trial” but said the UN demand for an immediate end to its military action was “difficult” to accept.

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