Car, IDF patrol come under fire north of Eilat; IDF raids Rafah

23.12.2003 A civilian Israeli vehicle traveling some 30 kilometers northwest of Eilat came under fire on Tuesday morning. The gunmen also hurled a hand grenade at the vehicle and opened fire on an Israel Defense Forces patrol vehicle which was called to the area to investigate the incident. The gunmen opened fire from the west around 4 A.M. as the car traveled on Route 12, the road linking Ovda airport to the Red Sea resort city. The driver accelerated, and drove on to an IDF checkpoint some 10 kilometers west of Eilat and reported the incident. No injuries were reported.

Security forces are searching the area for the gunmen and the road has been closed off to traffic. Forces believe that the gunmen opened fire inside Israel, and not from nearby Egypt. The attack comes just over a month after one tourist was killed and four others wounded when a gunman opened fire at the Arava Yitzhak Rabin border terminal with Jordan near Eilat. Also early Tuesday, around 40 IDF tanks and armored vehicles entered the Rafah refugee camp on the Gaza-Egypt border, just hours after two Israel Defense Forces officers were killed in a gunbattle with militants in the central Gaza Strip. Five Palestinians were killed and some 20 others injured in the fierce gunbattle that ensued, Palestinian medics said. Gazan hospital officials said that five Palestinians were wounded. An IDF source said the soldiers entered Rafah „as part of a continuous fight” to find and destroy a series of smuggling tunnels through which explosives were brought in from neighboring Egypt. The source said the soldiers were engaging gunmen in exchanges of fire, but had no comment on casualties. The slain IDF officers were identified as Captain Haggai Bibi, 24, of Ma’aleh Adumim, who last month signed on for another eight years in the IDF, and Lieutenant Leonardo Weissman, 23, of Afula. Bibi will be laid to rest on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem at 1.30 P.M. on Tuesday and Weissman will be laid to rest in his home town at 3 P.M. on Tuesday afternoon. They were the first Israeli fatalities in a month – the last fatal attack, which killed two guards near the separation fence in Jerusalem, was on November 22. Also Monday, a border policeman was moderately wounded in an ambush near the West Bank city of Hebron. Early Tuesday morning, a wanted member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) was arrested west of the West Bank town of Nablus. The attack in Gaza came shortly before 7 P.M., when soldiers at a lookout on the Kisufim-Gush Katif Road spotted a Palestinian whose movements looked suspicious. The lookouts summoned a jeep with additional soldiers to the site, about a kilometer west of the Kisufim checkpoint that separates Gaza from Israel. When the soldiers got out of the jeep, the Palestinian opened fire and bombarded them with hand grenades. In the ensuing gunfight at very close quarters, the Palestinian managed to mortally wound both of the officers in command before being killed. The two officers died about half an hour later. Israel Radio reported late Monday that the body of another Palestinian gunman was found in the area of the attack. The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the military wing of Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement, claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement to the Palestinian media. However, Israel’s security services are still investigating the truth of this claim. Before the past month’s relative lull in the violence, the Kisufim Road had been a scene of frequent attacks. It is the only road connecting the Gush Katif settlement bloc to Israel, and is therefore traveled by hundreds of soldiers and settlers every day. According to Brigadier General Gad Shamni, commander of the Gaza corps, there have been 11 attacks on this road so far this year, Israel Radio reported. About half an hour after the incident in Gaza, a Palestinian ambushed two Israeli vehicles at a bend in the road leading from Kiryat Arba to the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. A military policeman and policewoman were killed about a year ago at the same spot, 200 meters from „Worshipers’ Way.” The gunman fired at both vehicles, a Border Police jeep and a private car, and moderately wounded one policeman in the shoulder and leg. The policeman was taken to Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem for treatment. None of the civilians was hurt. In the last two months since the bombing of the Maxim restaurant in Haifa there has been a marked reduction in the number of Israeli casualties. Military Intelligence attributes this to a decision by Hamas to halt attacks inside Israel, but Shin Bet security service disagrees and credits the decline solely to the success of Israeli preventive action. The security services have foiled three attempted suicide bombings inside Israel in the last few weeks, apparently planned by Fatah and Islamic Jihad cells. Nevertheless, the bulk of the terrorist organizations’ efforts appear to be focused on attacks on Israeli targets in the territories, which have greater legitimacy with the Palestinian public and international public opinion. Israel’s response to Monday’s attack in Gaza is unlikely to be anything more than measures the IDF has in any case been taking over the last few months since the cease-fire collapsed in August – arrests and continued attempts to shut down the arms smuggling tunnels from Egypt to the Gaza town of Rafah. David Baker, an official in the Prime Minister’s Office, termed the attacks „another indication of the glaring indifference of the PA to taking any practical steps to stop terror attacks against Israelis.” BPI.