Death toll in attack on Gaza-Israel crossing rises to six

The death toll in a Palestinian attack on the Karni crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip rose to six Friday. All the Israelis killed were civilians. Four Israelis were wounded in the Thursday night attack, three seriously. The wounded were evacuated to Soroka Medical Center in Be’er Sheva. The terrorists began their attack at about 10:45 P.M., using a very large explosive device – which experts estimate weighed more than 120 kilograms – to blast through a door that separates the Israeli and Palestinian sides at the crossing. Palestinian gunmen then opened fire on the Israelis working at the crossing, including security guards, with mortars and light arms. Israel Defense Forces troops at the scene fired back, and three gunmen were killed. A short time after the attack, an Israel Air Force helicopter fired two missiles at a medical centre in Deir el Balah refugee camp run by an Islamic charity, Al Salah, with links to Hamas, witnesses said. There were no reports of casualties. The Palestinian attack, which came just four days after the election of Mahmoud Abbas, could be seen as a challenge to the new Palestinian Authority chairman, who has often condemned suicide bombings as harmful to the Palestinian cause. Significantly, three militant groups claimed joint responsibility for the attack: Hamas, the Popular Resistance Committees and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an offshoot of Abbas’ Fatah movement. “The attack was a continuation of resistance,” said Abu Abir of the Popular Resistance Committees in a joint claim of responsibility. It called it a response to Israel’s killing of a West Bank militant and other Palestinians in recent days. Hamas Islamic militants said they had hoped to kidnap Israeli soldiers to swap them for Palestinians held in Israeli jails. Abu Abir said the attack was “further proof that the enemy will leave the Gaza Strip under fire from the strikes of the Palestinian resistance”, referring to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s plan to evacuate settlers from the Gaza Strip and the northern West Bank this year. Palestinians identified one of the suicide bombers as Muhaned Al-Mansi, 18, from the Jabalya refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip. Israel and Washington have said that the first test of Abbas as a leader will be his willingness and ability to rein in terror groups. The Sharon government has set strong PA against terror as a pre-condition for resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Shortly after the bombing at Karni, witnesses said an Israeli helicopter fired missiles at a medical center in Dir al-Balah refugee camp run by an Islamic charity, Al Salah, with links to Hamas. There were no immediate reports of casualties in the air strike. Palestinians also reported that an IDF tank opened fire on an open area south of Gaza city. No casulaties or damage were reported in this attack either. The terminal, closed to Palestinian traffic at this hour, was relatively empty at the time of the attack. However, there is a permanent presence of Israeli civilian border authority personnel and a small IDF force permanently stationed at the crossing. The large bomb used to demolish the dividing wall between the Israeli and Palestinian sides of the crossing was apparently smuggled into Karni in a vehicle. The Karni crossing has been the target of dozens of attacks since the start of the intifada in September 2000. In March 2004, Hamas and Fatah managed to smuggle two militants through the crossing, and they carried out a suicide bombing in the Ashdod port. The militants managed to pass through Karni inside a container, with the assistance of a senior officer in the Palestinian Preventive Security organization, who was in charge of security on the Palestinian side. Ten Israeli civilians were killed in that attack. Hamas has been particularly eager to target crossings like Karni because of the relative ease with which Palestinians can approach them and the near-constant presence of Israelis there, and also because they can disrupt the economic link between the PA and Israel. BPI-info