Israeli incursion in Gaza Strip

13 Palestinians die in heavy fighting

army hunts for tunnels, explosives

June 28, 2007|By Jeffrey Fleishman | Jeffrey Fleishman,LOS ANGELES TIMES

JERUSALEM -- Israeli soldiers swept into the Gaza Strip yesterday, killing 13 Palestinians in the heaviest fighting since Hamas seized control of the territory early this month, the Israeli military said.

In raids involving helicopters and ground forces, the troops attacked around Gaza City and near the southern town of Khan Yunis.

The actions, which included searches for tunnels and explosives, were a further sign that Israel intends to isolate and weaken the militant Hamas movement while negotiating with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his more moderate Fatah party.

The Israeli military said Palestinian gunmen were killed after Israeli troops were attacked by six or seven antitank missiles near Khan Yunis. Two Israeli soldiers were wounded.

At least eight of those killed in the day's operations belonged to Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, which frequently clash with Israeli forces along the Gaza-Israeli border.

Palestinian officials said Raed Fanuna, a senior member of Islamic Jihad, was killed when an Israeli airstrike hit his car in east Gaza City, where at least seven other Palestinians died in various attacks. The Israeli military denied the aerial attack.

Palestinian medics said a 12-year-old boy and three others were killed when an Israeli tank shell struck a house in Gaza City.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum called the military offensive part of a "conspiracy in which Abbas is a participant and which is aimed at pressuring Hamas and the people of Gaza."

A video on Hamas TV accused Abbas of collaborating with the Israelis. The footage purportedly shows the Palestinian president telling his security officials during a meeting that they should kill Palestinian militants firing rockets into Israel.

In a news conference yesterday, Abbas said of the Israeli attacks: "We strongly condemn these criminal acts committed against our people in Gaza and the West Bank. We are against the violence, but at the same time we are against the useless missiles" fired from Gaza into Israel.

Between Tuesday and late yesterday, five rockets and three mortar rounds were launched from Gaza toward Israel, according to the Israeli army. Three of the rockets struck Israel, including one in an industrial area and another near a seminary outside Sderot.

The Israeli military incursions came days after a summit in Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt, involving Abbas, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, King Abdullah II of Jordan and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

The meeting was part of a widening Arab and Western push to strengthen Abbas and Fatah against the Islamic extremism of Hamas, which now presides over the 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza.

In an interview on Israeli radio, Efraim Halevy, former head of the Mossad spy agency, said Israeli strikes against militants should not be influenced by diplomatic efforts.

"If there was pinpointed and reliable information about intentions to attack Israel and an opportunity to eliminate a key figure responsible for the rocket fire, then it was both justified as well as welcome, regardless of what is going on on the diplomatic level," he said.

Jeffrey Fleishman writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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