GAZA CITY, 19 October 2006 — Israel broadened its push into the Gaza Strip and its tanks and infantry took up positions on the Egypt-Gaza border yesterday, killing two Palestinian fighters and surrounding the Rafah border terminal.
Palestinian security officials said Israeli troops and tanks moved into the border town of Rafah before dawn yesterday and took over a section of the frontier, including the area around the Rafah border terminal.
The army said Israeli forces were widening the scope of an operation in southern Gaza aimed at uncovering tunnels used by Palestinians to smuggle weapons from Egypt. The army said yesterday it has uncovered five tunnels so far.
Israel has sent tanks and troops in and out of Gaza and stepped up airstrikes against suspected fighters and weapons caches since Hamas-linked fighters tunneled under the border and attacked an Israeli Army post, killing two soldiers and capturing another, Cpl. Gilad Shalit, in late June.
Yesterday morning, Israeli troops killed two Hamas fighters as they approached army positions in Rafah, the army and Palestinians said. According to a statement from Hamas, one of the two was a senior fighter involved in the capture of the Israeli soldier, who remains in captivity.
Israel has charged that fighters have smuggled large quantities of weapons over and under the border since Israel's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza last summer.
Capt. Noa Meir, an army spokeswoman, said Israel would continue military operations as long as necessary to block the flow of arms — which she said included guns, explosives and anti-tank rockets — into Gaza. "The tunnels are part of a production line meant to kill Israelis, and it's our job to stop it," Meir said.
Briefing reporters during a visit to Moscow, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said the operation was limited. "We have no intention of staying anywhere in Gaza," he said.
The Palestinian officials said troops carried out house-to-house searches and bulldozers leveled agricultural land near the border.
Troops also surrounded the Rafah border terminal, where about 60 Palestinian security personnel remained, the officials said.
The crossing, the only land bridge from Gaza to the outside world without passing through Israel, has been closed most of the time since violence flared in June.
In northern Gaza late Tuesday night, Palestinians reported that two Hamas fighters were killed near the Jabaliya refugee camp during exchanges of fire with Israeli troops. The army said troops had killed one armed fighter.