IAF kills 7 Palestinians in northern Gaza air strike

By Arnon Regular and Nir Hasson, Haaretz Correspondents, and Agencies An Israel Air Force aircraft fired missiles at the Gaza Strip on Thursday night, killing seven Palestinians, including two Islamic Jihad militants and at least three civilians, among them a 15-year-old boy, Palestinian sources said. At least twelve Palestinians were wounded. Eye witnesses reported a second explosion in the attack, which took place in the Jabalya refugee camp in northern Gaza, possibly caused by a hit in the car’s gasoline tank. As a result passers by who crammed the roadside after the meal that ends the Ramadan fast were hurt. According to the Israel Defense Forces four out of the seven fatalities are Islamic Jihad militants who were in the car and up to three fatalities are civilian passers by. Among the dead are Rami Assaf, 15, Faiz Badran, 45, who was expected to run in the upcoming parliamentarian elections as a Fatah member, and Mohammed al-Wahidi, 65. Two more bodies have not yet been identified, but reportedly one of them is a boy. At least 12 Palestinians were wounded, among them a 10-year-old boy and three 17-year-olds who are in moderate to serious condition. The apparent target of the attack, leading Islamic Jihad militant Shadi Mohanna, was killed in the air strike, as was his deputy, Mohammed Ghazaineh. Mohanna, the Islamic Jihad field commander in northern Gaza, was involved in firing Qassam rockets at Israel and had been wanted for an extended period of time, the army said. According to the IDF, Mohanna, was directly responsible for operating cells that launched Qassam rockets and mortar shells from the vicinity of Beit Hanun at Israel. He was also involved in fighting against IDF troops prior to the pullout from the Strip. According to military sources, Mohanna – like many other Islamic Jihad activists – ignored the cease-fire declared between Israel and the Palestinians and continued involvement with Qassam rockets, mortar shells and cells that launched them. Witnesses said the missiles targeted the white Subaru car in which the Jihad men were traveling. The missiles, apparently fired from an unmanned aerial vehicle, hit the car on the road between the Jabalya camp and the Sheikh Za’id neighborhood. The area was crowded, as residents tend to leave their homes during the month of Ramadan, following the evening meal breaking the fast. „In a security forces operation this evening in the northern Gaza Strip, the Israel Air Force attacked a vehicle carrying a senior Islamic Jihad terrorist who was responsible for several murderous terrorist attacks,” the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement. Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said, „We want to condemn this attack and warn about the consequences of this escalation.” Thursday’s strike was the second targeted killing carried out by Israel in Gaza since the conclusion of the disengagement plan. On September 25, an IAF strike killed Muhammad Sheikh Halil, also a senior Islamic Jihad militant. In a text message sent to The Associated Press, Khader Habib, an Islamic Jihad spokesman, said the group would strike back. „There will be a painful, immediate response for tonight’s crime,” he said. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will meet with Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and a number of security chiefs on Thursday night to discuss the goings-on in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The strike came after Sharon announced a „broad and nonstop offensive” against terrorism, in response to Wednesday’s suicide bombing in Hadera that killed five people. Sharon pledged that the offensive – which is primarily targeting Islamic Jihad, the group that claimed responsibility for the Hadera bombing – would continue until terrorism ends. Throughout the day Thursday, IAF planes launched aerial strikes in the Gaza Strip, targeting sites used to fire Qassam rockets into Israel. They also bombed access routes leading to those areas. Early-morning assaults in northern Gaza struck a road and an open field, causing no casualties. The IAF also struck in southern Gaza, the military said. Also Thursday, the IDF arrested a top Islamic Jihad leader in Jenin during a raid in the West Bank city, Palestinian security sources said. About 35 jeeps, backed by Apache helicopters and troops, surrounded the home of Abdel Khalim Izzadin. After a brief standoff, Izzadin and three other men surrendered to troops, witnesses said. An IDF source confirmed that troops had conducted an „arrest mission” in Jenin and then exited the northern Palestinian city. There was no report of casualties in the raid. „Unfortunately, the Palestinian Authority has not taken any serious to battle terrorism,” Sharon said at the start of a meeting earlier on Thursday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. „We will not accept under any circumstances a continuation of terrorism. Therefore our activities will be broad and nonstop until they halt terrorism.” Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia said Thursday that Israel’s response to the suicide bombing only enflamed the tense situation. „We have condemned the Hadera attack,” he told reporters. „It doesn’t serve our people’s interests, but at the same time we condemn the Israeli aggression. This aggression doesn’t ensure calm.” The five victims of the attack were named as Jamil Mohammed Ka’adan, 48, of Baka al-Garbiyeh; Michael Koifman, 68, of Hadera; Sabiha Nissim, 66, of Moshav Ahituv; Perahiya Makhlouf, 53, of Hadera; and Ya’akov Rahmani, 68, from Hadera. As of Thursday morning, 20 people were still hospitalized due to injuries sustained in the attack, Israel Radio reported. Three of the wounded are said to be in serious condition. IDF prepares for possible Gaza incursion IDF tanks are expected to enter Qassam launch zones near Beit Hanun in northern Gaza. Ground forces began Thursday to deploy along the border for a possible incursion into the Strip. Although the IDF will not, at this stage, send ground forces for a large-scale operation in the Gaza Strip, it recommends that Palestinian civilians vacate these areas. In the northern West Bank, troops on Thursday arrested the father of the 20-year-old suicide bomber and rounded up another nine suspected Islamic militants. The operation in the northern West Bank will encompass the cities of Jenin and Tul Karm and large villages such as Ya’abed, Atil, Saida and Ilar, and the bomber’s home town of Qabatiyeh. The army will impose a closure on the villages, and attempt to arrest known Islamic Jihad activists and supporters. Israel will also target Islamic Jihad leaders in Gaza, security sources, but added that there were no immediate plans for a ground offensive there. ‘Islamic Jihad has declared war’ The military operation, which was approved by Sharon and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, is to take place on two fronts: northern Gaza and the northern West Bank. The operation’s primary target will be Islamic Jihad. Sharon and Mofaz decided Wednesday night to target the group, according to Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev. There is no time limit on the offensive, which will continue until the group’s infrastructure is eliminated or the Palestinian Authority begins to act against the militant groups, Regev said. „Islamic Jihad has declared war on every Israeli civilian and of course we’re 100 percent entitled to take the appropriate to defend our civilians,” Regev said. Ordinary Palestinians will also be affected, however, as a series of measures aimed at easing life for civilians will be reversed at least for the duration of the operation. The army will impose a general curfew on the West Bank and all crossings into Palestinian-controlled areas will be closed. In addition, northern Samaria will be cut off from the rest of the West Bank, and no Palestinian privately owned vehicles will be allowed to travel in that area. At a meeting of the IDF General Staff on Wednesday, officers said the Palestinian public must be made to understand that Israeli measures to ease Palestinian life, such as reopening border crossings, do not mesh with suicide bombings inside Israel. Therefore, they decided that the Erez and Karni crossings between Gaza and Israel will be closed again, shortly after they were reopened Wednesday. The officers also complained that the PA is not taking responsibility, resulting in Islamic Jihad’s Damascus headquarters having more influence over events than does the Authority. They said the PA security services have not lifted a finger to prevent anti-Israel violence. The most recent Qassam launches from Gaza, for instance, took place from a location adjacent to an area where several Palestinian officers live.