Israeli forces kill 7 Palestinians in Gaza fighting

October 24, 2006|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

JERUSALEM -- Israeli forces trying to disrupt rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip killed a militant commander and six other Palestinians yesterday during one of the bloodiest clashes of Israel's four-month-old offensive in the coastal territory.

At least 17 Palestinians were wounded in the fighting in the alleys of Beit Hanoun, hospital officials said, on the first day of Eid al-Fitr, the three-day Muslim holiday marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

Israeli television reports said an army reconnaissance unit had hidden in a house in the northern Gaza town waiting for one of the Palestinian squads that have been launching homemade Kassam rockets into southern Israel almost daily. The Israeli unit opened fire after armed militants detected them and moved toward the house, the reports said.

Atta Shimbari, local commander of the Popular Resistance Committees, was killed along with two armed members of his family and a noncombatant cousin, according to the militant group.

Capt. Noa Meir, an Israeli army spokeswoman, said that Shimbari had been "deeply involved" in the group's rocket attacks. But Abu Mujahid, a spokesman for the militants, called the incident "a clear assassination."

"Atta Shimbari was not in the process of carrying out a military operation," Mujahid said.

Palestinian witnesses said the Shimbaris came under fire on their way to a wake for a militant who had died in fighting last week. Some mourners left the wake to join in the clash, in which Palestinians lobbed mortar rounds and drew fire from Israeli tanks and a helicopter backing the reconnaissance team, the witnesses said.

Maj. Tal Lev-Ram, an Israeli officer in northern Gaza, said the army would continue to go after militants who launch rockets there. "We are moving the battle to their area," he told the Associated Press.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas denounced the Israeli operation yesterday as a "loathsome massacre" that blackened the Eid festivities.

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