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Israeli operation launched in Gaza City

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat talks on a mobile phone Sunday from his office in Ramallah, West Bank.
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat talks on a mobile phone Sunday from his office in Ramallah, West Bank.

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GAZA CITY (CNN) -- Israeli tanks and troops backed by helicopter gunships entered two Gaza City neighborhoods early Tuesday and were engaged in gun battles there, Palestinian sources said.

The sources said the Israeli military operation was aimed at destroying three homes of Palestinian militants who were killed in previous operations after Israel said they carried out attacks against its civilians.

At least two Palestinians were killed in Tuesday's raids and 20 others wounded, according to Palestinian sources.

The Israel Defense Forces had no immediate comment, but Israeli military sources confirmed an operation was under way.

One of the homes being demolished was the home of Jihad Alamirn, the former commander of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades in Gaza who was recently assassinated by the Israeli military, the sources said.

more video VIDEO
CNN's Ben Wedeman says the latest siege by Israeli troops is rebuilding support among Ramallah residents for Yasser Arafat (September 23)
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CNN's Matthew Chance examines whether or not Israel's containment of Arafat has disrupted any hope for Palestinian reform (September 23)
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Among suspects wanted by Israel

Tawfiq al-Tirawi

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Amin al-Halo
Head of special forces of general intelligence of West Bank. Israel alleges he assisted terror operation cells in the West Bank and had contacts with terrorists and activists.

Abu Awad, also known as Mahmoud Damra
Head of Arafat's security Force 17. Israel accuses him of activating attacks on Israeli communities.

Khalid Shawish
Senior activist in presidential security forces whom Israel also suspects has aided terror.

The operation comes after a weekend in which Israeli forces demolished large sections of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Ramallah compound, actions that the White House publicly criticized Monday.

"Israel's actions are very unhelpful ... contrary to peace," White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said. "The president wants to make sure that Israeli actions do not undermine reform efforts toward peace."

A senior administration official familiar with President Bush's reaction added, "To say he is angry about it is more than fair."

Washington introduced a draft resolution in the United Nations Security Council calling on Israel to stop destroying Palestinian structures in Ramallah.

In Ramallah, Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erakat said he sat down with Israeli security officials to discuss the end of the siege and later briefed Arafat.

An Israeli Defense Ministry spokesman said Arafat's chief lieutenant, Mahmoud Abbas -- also known as Abu Mazen -- had been given permission to hold talks with other Palestinian officials in Ramallah. In addition, the European Union's special Mideast envoy, Miguel Moratinos, was to meet with Abbas.

Israel stopped its demolition of Arafat's compound Sunday and sent in food and supplies but has maintained its siege around the one building still standing, where Arafat has been isolated since Thursday.

Erakat said Sunday the leader was in good spirits despite no running water, no land-line phones and shortages of food and medicine.

Israel is seeking the surrender of about 50 wanted Palestinian militants inside the compound. Arafat said that no militants are in the building and that he won't hand over any Palestinians to Israel.

In the meeting, Israelis requested the names of everyone in the compound, Erakat said, and the Palestinian leadership turned down the request. Erakat also said he demanded the siege be lifted.

The meeting between Erakat and the Israeli military officials produced no concrete results, he said, but another meeting is possible later.

The U.N. Security Council convened Monday to discuss the Israeli operation. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan condemned "morally repugnant" Palestinian terror attacks and asserted that Israel's "systematic and literal grinding down" at Arafat's headquarters would generate instability in the West Bank and Gaza.

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres told CNN's "Late Edition With Wolf Blitzer" on Sunday that his country's hand was forced since the Palestinian Authority refused to police its own people.

"We warned about additional suicide bombers," Peres said. "The Palestinian leadership did not give orders to stop it. They did not give orders to initiate it, but neither did they give orders to stop it. We said: 'Please tell your official police force to intervene to stop it.' They did not."

The Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz said U.S. officials declined to comment on its report that Israel stopped the demolition of buildings in the compound as a result of American pressure. The paper cited reports that Daniel Kurtzer, U.S. ambassador to Israel, delivered a message to Sharon when he visited Sharon's farm in the Negev Desert.

U.S. officials worked the phones Monday to convey Bush's displeasure.

Secretary of State Colin Powell called Sharon, and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice was among other senior White House and administration officials who contacted top Israelis to lodge objections, officials said.

"We are making clear what Israel is doing is not helpful," said a Bush administration official familiar with the calls. "We don't see the connection between these actions and a commitment to move forward on an agenda for peace."

Meanwhile, a person was killed Monday when Palestinian gunmen opened fire at visitors celebrating the Sukkot holiday in the Jewish enclave of Hebron in the West Bank, Israeli military sources said.

Ambulance services said that three other Israelis were wounded, including one seriously. Two of those hurt were children.

-- Correspondent Ben Wedeman contributed to this report.



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