Israel shell northern Gaza Strip to enforce "no-go zone"

Israel shelled the northern Gaza Strip on Wednesday to enforce a "no-go zone" it says is aimed to stop cross-border rocket fire by militants, and the Palestinian Authority condemned the move. At least 12 artillery shells landed after the new measure went into force at 6 p.m. (1600 GMT), wounding a militant and a teenage bystander. Another shell narrowly missed a car, whose occupants fled. Witnesses said a rocket crew was nearby.

Israel called the shelling a response to Palestinian rocket salvoes at its border towns. Palestinians condemned the buffer zone, calling it tantamount to re-occupying land Israel withdrew from in September after 38 years of occupation.

"Israel has left the Gaza Strip and has no right to come back," President Mahmoud Abbas told reporters in Gaza. "They should not make any pretext."

Israel says there is no plan for ground forces to re-enter Gaza. The aim is to step up air strikes and shelling from land and sea, but that has so far done little to stop the firing of rockets into the Jewish state.

Rocket firing, which Palestinians say is retaliation for Israeli military action there and in the West Bank, is a political headache for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as he campaigns to win a third term on a platform of ending conflict.

Rightists who opposed Sharon's widely popular Gaza pullout argue the rocket fire proves that giving up any of the land that Palestinians want for a state will only bring more violence and cannot lead to peace.

Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an armed wing of Abbas's ruling Fatah faction, said it launched four rockets at an Israeli town and army base across the border, and would continue to do so. "We will answer bombardment with bombardment, and isolation with isolation," said a statement issued by al-Aqsa and fellow militant groups the Popular Resistance Committees and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, reports Reuters. I.L.

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