IDF searches for remains of 6 soldiers killed in Gaza

12/05/2004 08:53 Israel Defense Forces soldiers early on Wednesday resumed the search for the remains of six soldiers from the Givati brigade who were killed when a bomb blew up their armored vehicle Tuesday, after Palestinian militants proudly displayed some of the body parts. Large armor and infantry forces, accompanied by helicopters, were conducting house-to-house searches in Gaza City’s Zeitoun neighborhood, Israel Radio reported. A massive concentration of Israeli troops hunkered down for a lengthy stay in Gaza City Tuesday night, after the security cabinet decided that the IDF will remain until all the body parts of the six soldiers killed there on Tuesday morning have been found. At an emergency session held Tuesday evening to discuss responses to the bombing, the cabinet also decided that there will no negotiations for the return of the missing body parts. The six slain Israelis are Jacob Marvizi, from Kibbutz Geva; Adaron Amar, from Eilat; Eitan Neuman, from Jerusalem; Aviad Deri, from Moshav Matta; Kobi Mizrahi, from Jerusalem; and Ofer Jerbi, from Moshav Ben Zakai. They were killed when a bomb exploded under their armored personnel carrier at about 6:15 A.M. Tuesday. Israel has approached the International Red Cross (IRC) to help retrieve the body parts, according to Israeli diplomatic sources. Red Cross spokesman Simon Schorno said the request was accepted, and Red Cross officials are in touch with Palestinian authorities. The Palestinian Authority released a statement Tuesday evening calling on the militant groups and residents of the Gaza Strip to return the remains of the IDF soldiers. In the statement, released after a meeting of PA officials in Ramallah, the Palestinian leadership called on the groups to treat the bodies „according to Islamic law, and not to hurt Islamic values.” The PA condemned the „criminal” IDF operation, but called on the militant groups not to „tarnish the image and values of the Palestinians.”

Palestinian militants have displayed body parts that they said belonged to the soldiers, and the Palestinian organizations issued a joint statement in which they announced that they intended to demand a ransom for the return of the remains. In response, the IDF partitioned the Gaza Strip into three sections, sealed off Gaza City’s Zeitoun neighborhood where the bombing occurred, and sent in massive reinforcements, gathered from all over the country, to assist in the effort to recover the soldiers’ bodies. Palestinian sources said that two of the bodies remained close to the APC’s carcass and were picked up the soldiers. The searches lasted until after dark, resulting in additional clashes with Palestinian gunmen. They are due to be resumed early Friday morning. Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah each claimed responsibility for planting the bomb, which reportedly weighed over 100 kilograms. The loss of the six soldiers was the deadliest blow suffered by IDF troops in the territories since November 2002, when gunmen killed nine soldiers and three security guards in an ambush in Hebron. The day-long fighting in Gaza, which began shortly after midnight on Monday and lasted until late Tuesday evening, also resulted in eight Palestinian deaths and over 120 wounded, according to Palestinian sources. Most of the wounded suffered only light injuries, but 15 were reported to be in critical condition. The IDF said that all of those killed were armed men. Palestinians said that three were unarmed teenagers. The IDF operation in Zeitoun that began Monday night was aimed at destroying Palestinian weapons factories. Dozens of tanks, bulldozers and APCs were employed in the mission, and the soldiers blew up some 20 workshops that the IDF said were used to make weapons. The operation encountered fierce resistance from hundreds of Palestinians armed with rifles, antitank missiles, machine guns and bombs, but the Israeli troops suffered no casualties during this part of the operation. Shortly after dawn, the soldiers began to withdraw from Zeitoun, and it was then that one of the Palestinian bombs blew up an APC carrying six members of the Givati Brigade’s engineering corps. IDF sources said that the vehicle was carrying explosives for use in demolishing the weapons manufactories, which intensified the effects of the blast. According to Palestinian sources, the explosion also destroyed three four-story apartment buildings in the vicinity. Pieces of the APC and of the soldiers’ bodies were scattered for hundreds of meters roundabout, even landing on the rooftops of neighboring buildings. Palestinian sources identified the slain Palestinians as Amar Nasser, 31, the head of Hamas’s military wing in Zeitoun; Fadi Nasser, 18, a Hamas operative; Mohammed Addas, 21, of Islamic Jihad; Ahmed Swirkhi, also of Islamic Jihad; Yusuf al-Hejazi, 18, a bystander, and two 15-year-olds, Hamdi Muhassan and Rami Jaffar. The name of the eighth man, who was killed late last night, was not available. At the security cabinet session, the idea of targeting Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat was raised, as usual, but security sources said that IDF commanders recommended against this and instead proposed pinpoint attacks on Palestinian militants. But Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told the Knesset that Israel would strike back hard. „We will not stop fighting [the enemy] and hitting him, wherever he operates and hides,” Sharon said. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell called Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom to discuss the situation and express his shock, and State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher said that the U.S. was „very concerned and shocked” about the news from Gaza.BPI.