updated 8/26/2004 4:18:23 PM ET 2004-08-26T20:18:23

Israeli forces cut main Gaza roads on Thursday after militants fired rockets at an Israeli town, and soldiers tore down houses in a refugee camp on the Egyptian border.

The Israelis have been unable to stop rocket fire into Israel, despite frequent army operations in northern Gaza, the launching zone. On Thursday, Israeli helicopters fired missiles at the area as a warning, Army Radio reported.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon intends to pull Israeli soldiers and settlers out of Gaza next year. Critics warn that that after the exit, rocket attacks will intensify.

Militants are increasing attacks to portray the pullout as a defeat, while Israel has carried out tough crackdowns to show it’s leaving of its own volition.

Palestinians on Thursday fired two of the primitive homemade Qassam rockets at Sderot, an Israeli town of about 20,000 less than a mile from the Gaza fence.

One rocket hit a storage shack next to a house, and the other landed in a field. No one was hurt.

Also, Palestinians fired several mortar shells at a Jewish settlement in Gaza, the military said. No damage or casualties were reported.

Responding to the rocket fire, Israel placed roadblocks on main highways, dividing Gaza into three sections between which no one was allowed to travel.

Cutting Gaza into three parts, a frequent response to violence, is seen by Palestinians as collective punishment, though the Israelis claim the purpose is to keep militants from transferring weapons from one part to the other.

In southern Gaza on Thursday, Israeli forces knocked down houses in the Rafah refugee camp on the Egyptian border.

The Israeli military said an operation was underway against the “terrorist infrastructure” in the camp, and two abandoned structures used by militants to fire mortars and guns were destroyed.

Associated Press pictures showed residents picking through rubble strewn with broken furniture and torn clothes.

The camp is a frequent target as Israeli forces search for arms smuggling tunnels, some of which terminate under buildings in the camp. Searching for peace Hundreds of structures have been destroyed in the camp during the current conflict.

In the Rafah camp after nightfall, an explosion rocked the house of a well-known Islamic Jihad militant, Mohammed Khalil, who was injured along with three other people, Palestinians said. There was no immediate word on what caused the blast. The Israeli military had no comment.

There have been no effective measures by Palestinian authorities to stop the rocket and mortar fire, though from time to time residents have chased militants away for fear that using their land as a launching pad would lead to Israeli retaliation.

Israeli efforts have been equally ineffective. After two Israelis, including a child, were killed in Sderot in late June — the only fatalities from the rocket fire in four years of violence — Israel sent troops into northern Gaza, flattening farmland and controlling territory for six weeks before withdrawing.

Rocket fire resumed hours after the pullout.

Also, Israeli attack helicopters frequently fire missiles at workshops in Gaza where the Israelis say the Palestinians manufacture the simple mortars and rockets.

Sharon calls his Gaza exit plan “unilateral disengagement,” designed to reduce friction with the Palestinians and head off international peace initiatives that he feels would be unfavorable to Israel in the West Bank.

Sharon refuses to coordinate the pullout with Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Authority, charging that its security forces have done nothing to stop militant attacks against Israelis and have taken part in many of them.

Some warn that leaving the Palestinian Authority out could lead to chaos in Gaza and a takeover by Islamic militants. Egypt has been offering to train Palestinian security forces to fill the vacuum.

Arafat is resisting demands by the United States, Egypt, Israel and his own people for reforms that would include streamlining the security forces and reforming his corruption-plagued administration.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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