Gaza Strike Sets Scene For Talks

KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza Strip -- Israeli tanks and bulldozers backed by attack aircraft moved into the southern Gaza Strip on Tuesday, killing four militants in the widest operation in the territory since Hamas forces wrested control in June.

The violence took place on the eve of the first formal peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians since early 2001. The Israeli military described it as a routine operation "against the terror infrastructure" in Gaza.

But the scene on the ground -- bodies lying amid the rubble of a destroyed building, Israeli tanks pushing deep into Palestinian territory, schoolchildren scurrying for cover -- looked anything but routine. Palestinian officials accused Israel of trying to sabotage the peace talks.

At the same time, Israel has been pursuing a peace agreement with the rival Palestinian government of President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank.

In Tuesday's operation, tanks and bulldozers pushed about 1.5 kilometers into southern Gaza, on the main road between the towns of Khan Younis and Rafah, and deployed over a four-kilometer stretch of territory.

Residents and Hamas security forces said at least 30 tanks and bulldozers took part in the operation, but the military said 10 tanks were sent in.

The operation focused on an area that is a main launching ground for rocket and mortar assaults on army bases and the Israeli-controlled Sufa crossing into Gaza.