Palestinian gunmen sneak into Gaza base, kill three soldiers

Friday, September 24, 2004

The Associated Press

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- Palestinian gunmen made their way into a heavily fortified Israeli army post in the Gaza Strip under cover of morning fog Thursday and started shooting, killing three Israeli soldiers in a 45-minute firefight.

Two attackers were killed soon afterward, but a third hid near the post for several hours before firing on journalists inspecting the scene, wounding an Israeli newspaper reporter in the leg.

The infiltration came as Israeli forces wrapped up an operation in a nearby Gaza refugee camp amid signs of increasing tensions and violence ahead of Israel's planned withdrawal from Gaza next year.

The earth-and-concrete outpost guards the isolated settlement of Morag in the southeast corner of Gaza. Taking advantage of heavy fog, Palestinian gunmen slipped unnoticed into the post at about 6 a.m. and opened fire, killing an Israeli officer and two soldiers and critically wounding another soldier, the military said.

Late Thursday, Palestinians said Israeli forces blocked the main crossing point between Gaza and Israel by piling sand on the Gaza road in front of the Erez checkpoint and establishing a military outpost there.

In an overnight Israeli operation in the Khan Younis refugee camp, bulldozers razed seven buildings the army said were used for cover by militants to attack Israeli forces and fire mortars and rockets at settlements. Several Palestinians were wounded when an Israeli helicopter fired a missile at a group of people during a gun battle in the camp, hospital officials said.

Morag is one of the 21 Gaza settlements set for evacuation under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's "unilateral disengagement" plan. Most of Gaza's 8,200 Jewish settlers live in the large Gush Katif bloc along the coast, while Morag is one of several settlements standing alone in the crowded territory, where 1.3 million Palestinians live, many in poverty.

Sharon has said he believes Israel's presence in Gaza is untenable. He said evacuating the Gaza settlements and four isolated West Bank enclaves was a way to strengthen Israel's hold on parts of the West Bank where most of its 236,000 settlers live.

However, Sharon has run into stiff opposition from settlers and their backers in his own camp. Sharon was the main engine driving settlement construction and expansion for decades in various Cabinet positions, and his constituency has not embraced his subsequent change of heart.

Palestinians charge that the disengagement plan is a West Bank land grab, but settlers warn that if Israel begins evacuating settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, world pressure will not let up until all settlements are removed.

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