5 Israeli troops killed in 2nd roadside blast in 2 days

Remains of the 6 killed in first attack recovered

May 13, 2004|By Laura King | Laura King,LOS ANGELES TIMES

JERUSALEM - Palestinian militants blew apart an explosives-laden Israeli armored vehicle yesterday for the second time in as many days, killing five soldiers.

Hours later, the Israeli army confirmed that it had received the remains of the six soldiers killed in Tuesday's blast in Gaza City.

The 11 dead was the highest two-day toll for the Israeli army in the Gaza Strip in the more than 3 1/2 years of the current conflict. In Israel, where yesterday had been a day of national mourning even before word of the latest deaths emerged, the debate over the presence of Jewish settlers in Gaza, and the young soldiers who must protect them, grew ever more bitter and divisive.

The armored personnel carrier that was destroyed yesterday afternoon near the southern town of Rafa was carrying a large load of explosives intended for use in destroying weapons-smuggling tunnels that run beneath the Egyptian frontier, the army said.

The Israeli vehicle struck either a buried bomb or was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade, or both, setting off an enormous explosion that instantly killed all five soldiers inside, said army spokesman Capt. Jacob Dallal.

Yesterday began with Israeli soldiers, backed by combat helicopters, armored vehicles and fire from navy gunboats, clambering onto tin rooftops and tramping through cramped courtyards in the Zeitoun neighborhood on Gaza City's southern fringes. They were looking for body parts left scattered in Tuesday's powerful explosion. Some of the remains of those killed had been snatched up by Palestinian fighters as war trophies or bargaining chips.

Israeli officials said yesterday that searchers believed they had managed to gather at least some of the remains of each of the six soldiers killed Tuesday - enough, eminent rabbis agreed, for burial. Israel also confirmed that Palestinians had turned over the remaining body parts to Egyptian mediators.

Still, the Israelis' daylong search ignited a fierce new round of street battles between troops and Palestinian gunmen, leaving at least five Palestinians dead and dozens of others wounded, according to Palestinian hospital officials. They said the casualties included civilians as well as combatants.

At least seven Palestinians were reportedly killed in a later Israeli missile attack.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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