Gunmen ambush patrol, killing 3 Israeli soldiers

Attack occurs as tanks pull out of camp, ending hunt for smuggling routes

October 20, 2003|By Megan K. Stack | Megan K. Stack,LOS ANGELES TIMES

JERUSALEM - Palestinian gunmen opened fire on an Israeli army foot patrol on a darkened road outside the West Bank city of Ramallah last night, killing three soldiers and wounding a fourth.

The ambush occurred a few hours after nightfall on a stretch of road near the large Jewish settlement of Ofra. The rocky, scrubby area has been the scene of ambushes and attacks on passing Israeli vehicles during the three years of Palestinian uprising.

Israeli soldiers ordered a curfew in the nearby Palestinian village of Ein Yabrud and combed the countryside for the gunmen. The attackers also threw an explosive at the soldiers, according to some reports, and fled.

The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, an armed resistance faction tied to Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat's Fatah party, claimed responsibility for the ambush.

"This is proof that the resistance will respond to any Israeli crime," an Al Aqsa commander told the Israeli news Web site Ynet. "All Israeli means of defense will fail when the resistance makes a decision to strike."

In the Gaza Strip, Israeli tanks pulled back from sections of a dilapidated refugee camp near the Egyptian border. It put an end to the raids in which Israeli soldiers killed eight Palestinians and flattened more than a dozen homes.

Israel has been cracking down for more than a week on Rafah, where underground tunnels snake from Egypt, under the border and come to light within Palestinian homes. Israeli officials say the underground passages are used to smuggle weapons into the Gaza Strip.

Fourteen Palestinians have been killed in the raids since Oct. 10, and more than 100 homes have been demolished, leaving 1,240 Palestinians homeless, according to the United Nations. Israeli officials have said the reports of the damage have been exaggerated.

Early yesterday, Palestinian militants fired a stream of homemade rockets from the Gaza Strip into the Israeli town of Sderot and the surrounding Negev desert. No one was hurt. The crude Kassam rockets seldom inflict serious damage.

In Israel, hundreds of army reservists were called up yesterday in a controversial decision to strengthen the Israeli military active in the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The rare emergency call-up was inspired by a high number of terrorism alerts, Israel Radio reported.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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