Five Israeli soldiers killed by second roadside bomb attack
Thursday, May 13, 2004
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- An explosion destroyed an Israeli armored vehicle Wednesday, killing five soldiers, in the second such attack by Palestinian militants in Gaza in two days. Hours later, an Israeli missile attack killed seven Palestinians, residents and Palestinian medical officials said.
Fourteen other Palestinians were wounded in the missile strike on the Rafah refugee camp near the Egyptian border, the medical officials said.
The military said it targeted a group of militants planting bombs and firing at soldiers searching the area of Wednesday's blast, which occurred next to the camp on the Gaza-Egypt border.
Residents said at least four of the Palestinians killed were gunmen.
In all, 11 Israeli soldiers and 23 Palestinians were killed in three days of Gaza fighting Tuesday and Wednesday, and more than 175 Palestinians were wounded in the biggest operation in Gaza in nearly a decade.
The Israeli deaths reignited debate over Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to withdraw Israeli troops and settlers from Gaza, despite a veto by his Likud Party and fierce opposition by ultranationalist coalition partners.
The militant Islamic Jihad group, which has close ties to Lebanese guerrillas, claimed responsibility for Wednesday's blast on a patrol road along the Gaza-Egypt border.
Tuesday's blast in the Zeitoun area killed six soldiers and scattered remains of Israeli bodies across a wide radius, and Wednesday's blast killed five soldiers. Palestinian militants displayed some remains in the street and said the remains would not be released until Israel pulled its troops out of Gaza City.
Early today, Israeli forces began pulling out of Gaza City, Israel Radio reported, completing their search for soldiers' remains.
Remains handed overA masked, armed militant saying he spoke for the Islamic Jihad and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades said early Thursday that according to an agreement worked out with the Palestinian Authority and Egypt, the militants gave the soldiers' remains to the authority after the Israeli pullout from Gaza City.
A Palestinian ambulance took the fragments to the Erez crossing to be handed over to the Israelis, Palestinian officials said.
Israeli commentators likened the fighting in Gaza to Israel's guerrilla war in Lebanon, which ended with Israel's withdrawal in 2000.
The violence began early Tuesday with an army raid in the Zeitoun district of Gaza City, where troops were searching for weapons workshops.
An armored personnel carrier packed with explosives was torn apart by a roadside bomb.
On Wednesday, another armored personnel carrier, also transporting dozens of pounds of explosives, was blown up near the Rafah refugee camp in southern Gaza. The Israeli military said the five soldiers were killed when the vehicle was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade.
Simon Schorno, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, said the group was acting as an intermediary for the return of the remains.
"Anyone who desecrates (the bodies of) soldiers, we shall catch them, and our settling of accounts with them will be bitter and precise," Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz told Channel 10 TV.
Israel is known for going to great lengths to recover the bodies of fallen soldiers, both because Jewish law requires the entire body to be buried, where possible, and because the army fears militants will try to use remains as bargaining chips.
Israel has carried out a number of lopsided prisoner deals. In January, it exchanged hundreds of Arab prisoners for the remains of three soldiers and a captured businessman.
In Wednesday's fighting in Gaza City, five Palestinians were killed and more than 60 others, mostly civilians, were wounded. Dozens of armored vehicles patrolled deserted streets, snipers took up positions on rooftops and Apache helicopters hovered overhead, firing occasional bursts of gunfire.
The three-day operation in Gaza City was the largest since September 1996, when Israel sent hundreds of tanks and other vehicles to put down riots that erupted after Israel opened a tunnel near holy sites in the Old City of Jerusalem. At least 73 people were killed on both sides in those clashes, which lasted more than a week in the West Bank and Gaza.
Saed Abdullah, a 45-year-old father of six who lives near the site of Tuesday's explosion, said he and his children spent hours hiding under beds as bullets shattered windows and destroyed furniture.
Soldiers stormed the house, locking the family into a room for more than five hours, Abdullah said. Then they took him and two other neighbors and used them as "human shields" as they searched the neighborhood, he said. Using Palestinians as shields is illegal, according to Israeli Supreme Court rulings.