Fighting in Gaza kills 4 Palestinians, wounds two television cameramen

Monday, August 28, 2006

Fox News journalists released by militants.

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- Israeli airstrikes in the Gaza Strip on Sunday killed three Palestinians and wounded two television cameramen, Palestinian officials and residents said.

They said Israeli sniper fire killed a fourth Palestinian and critically wounded a 6-year-old boy.

The first airstrike, in the early hours, hit an armored car belonging to the Reuters news agency, wounding five people, including the two cameramen, Palestinian witnesses and hospital officials said.

The Israeli army said that in the darkness, no press markings were seen on the vehicle.

A Hamas militant was killed in another air raid, hospital officials said. The army later reported another strike against a group of Palestinians carrying an anti-tank missile. Hamas said one of its men was killed in that attack.

Another Palestinian was killed late Sunday in a similar strike aimed at militants carrying a missile near the Israeli border, residents said.

On Sunday afternoon, a 20-year-old Palestinian man was shot in the head by a sniper in Gaza City, hospital officials said.

A 6-year-old boy was shot in the chest and critically wounded in the same area later Sunday outside his home, Palestinian medical officials said..

The violence came as Israeli soldiers combed an area just inside the Gaza Strip in what the army said was a search for "terror infrastructure," particularly tunnels.

Also in Gaza, two Fox News journalists were freed by militants Sunday, ending two weeks of captivity during which they said they were forced at gunpoint to say on a video that they had converted to Islam.

After their release, Steve Centanni, a 60-year-old American reporter, and cameraman Olaf Wiig, 36, of New Zealand, met with Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and appealed for foreign journalists not to be deterred from covering the plight of the Palestinians in the volatile coastal strip.

Israel stepped up raids and airstrikes in Gaza after a June 25 raid by Hamas-linked militants, who tunneled into Israel captured a young Israeli soldier and took him back to Gaza. The soldier, Gilad Shalit, will turn 20 today.

Soon after Shalit's kidnapping, Israeli troops arrested two dozen Hamas lawmakers in the West Bank and nine Cabinet ministers. Four of the ministers have since been released.

On Sunday, about 10 army jeeps surrounded lawmaker Mahmoud Musleh's house in Ramallah, and soldiers entered and arrested him, according to his daughter and Palestinian security officials. The army confirmed the arrest.

His capture, which brought to 31 the number of detained Hamas lawmakers, put almost all of Hamas' West Bank leadership in Israeli custody. Much of the rest of the Hamas leadership is in Gaza.

Israel says its roundup of Hamas officials is a legitimate act against a terrorist group. Palestinian officials say the lawmakers and Cabinet ministers are being held as bargaining chips to secure Shalit's release. The militants holding Shalit have demanded a large release of Palestinian prisoners, which Israel has refused.

In Cairo, the Egyptian daily Al Ahram said a German-brokered three-way prisoner swap involving Hamas, Israel and Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas was in the works. Hezbollah kidnapped two Israeli soldiers July 12, sparking a monthlong Israel-Hezbollah war.

Hezbollah's leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, said in a TV interview that contacts were already under way to arrange a prisoner swap. Israeli officials denied that, saying they do not negotiate with "terrorists."

In Gaza City, the Reuters crew members, Fadel Shama'a, 23, and Sabah Hamida, 25, who worked for a local television company, were in Shajaiyeh overnight to film the military activity. They had just opened the doors of their armored vehicle when it was hit by two missiles, according to Shamas Odeh, chief of Reuters TV in Gaza.

The cameramen and three bystanders were injured by shrapnel and all five were sent for surgery, hospital officials said.

The Foreign Press Association, a group representing journalists covering Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, harshly criticized the army. It said the vehicle was "clearly marked" and demanded a "full and transparent investigation into this terrible incident."

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