Israeli Missile Strike in Gaza Town of Rafah
FOX-News / AP       April 15, 2004

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip  — An Israeli (search) helicopter fired a missile during a raid of a Gaza (search) refugee camp early Thursday, and at least 15 Palestinians were wounded, hospital officials said.

Witnesses said the missile was fired toward a crowd of civilians and gunmen.  The army said the missile hit a field in an attempt to move a group of Palestinian militants away from Israeli troops.

Four of the wounded were in a critical condition, Dr. Ali Musa of Rafah (search) Hospital said.

The helicopters were accompanying a force of about 25 Israeli tanks searching for weapon smuggling tunnels in Rafah.

Rafah resident Suleiman Abu Jazar, 45, said the Apache helicopter fired the missile as people were gathered in the street, including civilians and gunmen.  Abu Jazar said a "sparkle came out of the sky with a big boom and people behind me were falling down."

The army said that during the operation militants had fired two anti-tank missiles at the troops and detonated five explosive devices.  There were no injuries reported on the Israeli side.

The tanks, accompanied by three bulldozers, moved into Rafah on the Gaza-Egypt border early Thursday, residents said.

Military officials said troops were trying to find tunnels used by Palestinians to smuggle weapons from Egypt.  The officials said Israeli forces had been tipped off that smugglers were active again.  It was the second Israeli operation in Rafah in two days.  The camp is a frequent flashpoint of clashes because of the tunnels.

Four houses were leveled in the raid, Palestinian witnesses said.