Israel tightens areas to avoid election attacks

Published: Monday, January 27, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 26, 2003 at 10:39 p.m.
JERUSALEM - Israel locked down the West Bank and Gaza Strip on Sunday ahead of its national election, after a large-scale military incursion into Gaza and warnings that Palestinians may try to disrupt the voting with violence.
About 26,500 police and soldiers were deploying to guard against Palestinian attacks during the voting Tuesday, police spokesman Gil Kleiman said.
There were general warnings of attacks by Palestinians over the next 48 hours, but no more than usual, he said.
However, Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz told Israel's Cabinet on Sunday that Israel is in the midst of an "assault of terror," both in terms of the scope of warnings and attempts to carry out attacks.
Wrapping up his campaign in Haifa, the home of his main opponent, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said he would try to set up a broad-based government after the election.
On Sunday afternoon, Israel imposed a blanket closure on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, barring all Palestinians from entering Israel and confining most to their communities.
Israel has enforced stringent travel bans on Palestinians since the outbreak of fighting, but Sunday's restrictions, to be in effect until Wednesday, impeded movement even further.
The military said the Allenby Bridge between Jordan and the West Bank and the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt would remain open.
Palestinians drew a connection between the Israeli election and a large-scale Israeli incursion into Gaza City early Sunday in which 12 Palestinian gunmen were killed and 67 wounded.
Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo said it was part of Sharon's re-election campaign.
The Gaza City raid began shortly after 10 p.m. Saturday, and ended Sunday morning.
After Israeli troops withdrew, about 30,000 Palestinians joined the funeral procession for the 12 gunmen killed in the fighting - the highest death toll in Gaza in five months. Those killed included members of the security forces and various Palestinian militias.
It was the deepest Israeli penetration into the Palestinian city of 300,000 in more than two years of fighting. The raid came in response to the firing of crude, short-range Qassam rockets at the Israeli town of Sderot in the southern Negev Desert, near Gaza, on Friday.

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