Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Israel Kills 28 as Raids on Refugees Stepped Up

JEBALIYA REFUGEE CAMP, Gaza Strip -- Israel on Tuesday intensified its offensive against Palestinian militants -- the largest military operation in 20 years -- and killed 28 Palestinians in raids of sprawling refugee camps, the West Bank's commercial center and other targets.

In apparent retaliation, seven Israeli motorists were killed in shooting attacks -- seven in northern Israel, near the border with Lebanon, and one in the West Bank. In the attack near Lebanon, Israeli troops killed two gunmen and exchanged fire with a third for more than an hour. It was not immediately clear whether the gunmen were Palestinians or Lebanese guerrillas.

Israel launched its military operation against Palestinian militants last week, in response to a series of deadly attacks on Israeli civilians. Israeli security sources said Tuesday that most combat soldiers in Israel's standing army and some reserve troops -- a force of many thousands -- were deployed in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the largest-scale operation since Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon. In the West Bank town of Ramallah alone, dozens of tanks were patrolling the streets.

Deputy Defense Minister Dalia Rabin-Pelossof, a moderate, said she expected the strikes to be halted by the time U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni arrives in the region Thursday. Two previous truce missions by Zinni were scuttled by violence.

As the fighting raged, two Israeli Cabinet ministers from the ultra-nationalist National Union party submitted their resignations, saying they felt Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's actions against the Palestinian Authority were not tough enough. Sharon retains a solid parliamentary majority -- 75 out of 120 seats -- despite the protest.

On Monday evening, about 50,000 Israelis demonstrated in Tel Aviv, calling for stiffer action against the Palestinians. "Defeat Arafat, Destroy Terror," banners read.

In Tuesday's fighting, the Jebaliya refugee camp -- the largest with 100,000 residents and a stronghold of the Islamic militant group Hamas -- came under heavy Israeli fire from tanks and helicopter gunships during a three-hour incursion. The camp was plunged into darkness when Israeli fire struck a transformer.

Hundreds of Palestinian gunmen exchanged fire with Israeli forces, and at least 18 Palestinians were killed and 75 wounded by Israeli fire, doctors said. Many civilians, some in their pajamas, fled the fighting, moving toward nearby Gaza City on foot and in donkey carts. "They are killing us," said Laila Ayoub, 38, carrying a baby girl in her arms. "They used helicopters to fire on us while we were leaving."

Israeli government spokesman Dore Gold said Israel was showing restraint and "not using the full strength of its air force against the refugee camps."

Israeli tanks also took control of the West Bank town Ramallah and the adjacent Amari refugee camp, where fierce gunbattles were reported. Five Palestinians, including two policemen, two unarmed guards at the parliament building and a taxi driver, were killed by Israeli fire, doctors said.

Several tanks were deployed outside the headquarters of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat. The takeover came only a day after Sharon announced that Arafat, who had been confined to Ramallah for the past three months by Israel, was free to move in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

In an angry response, a senior Arafat adviser, Ahmed Abdel Rahman, said Tuesday that "talking peace with the Israelis was a historic mistake."

Israeli troops announced over loudspeakers that boys and men between the ages of 16 and 40 must come out of their homes and surrender to Israeli forces in Ramallah. Local television stations urged the men not to comply.

Over the weekend, Israeli forces up rounded up nearly 2,000 Palestinians in arrests sweeps in three other West Bank locations, in hopes of tracking down suspected militants. In the Tulkarem refugee camp, troops wrote numbers on the foreheads and forearms of several detainees for identification.

Arafat equated the action with the treatment of Jews in Nazi concentration camps during World War II, when numbers were tattooed on the arms of prisoners as a means of identification. "Did you see them put [numbers] on people they've arrested in the Tulkarem refugee camp?" Arafat said Monday on Abu Dhabi Television. "Isn't this the sort of thing they used to say the Nazis did against the Jews? So what do they say about these things? Isn't this a new Nazi racism?"

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said Tuesday that "we have to be careful not to humiliate [people], not to treat human beings with contempt."

Since the beginning of March, 159 Palestinians and 58 Israelis have been killed, making it the bloodiest period since fighting broke out in September 2000.

Israel's incursion into Jebaliya ended before dawn Tuesday. The Israeli military said it was aimed at finding rockets, destroying weapons factories and arresting suspected terrorists.

A Hamas leader, Abdel Aziz Rantisi, threatened bloody revenge. "We have no choice but to kill the occupier, to kill him everywhere, every village and every city. There's no other way to defend ourselves," he said.