Gaza clashes kill 17 Palestinians, three Israeli soldiers

April 17th, 2008 - 6:48 am ICT by admin  

Gaza City/Tel Aviv, April 17 (DPA) At least 17 Palestinians and three Israeli soldiers were killed in heavy clashes in the volatile Gaza Strip Wednesday, the highest death toll in the battered salient for weeks. At least 12 Palestinians were killed in fighting near the al-Bureij refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip, which erupted as an Israeli army force entered the area and local militants confronted it with mortar shells and gunfire.

An Israeli army spokeswoman said the force entered the area “to make sure it is safe and there are no gunmen there,” before reopening the nearby Nahal Oz fuel crossing, on the central Gaza Strip border with Israel. Palestinian gunmen had attacked that crossing a week ago, killing two civilian fuel truck drivers.

The Israeli troops used air support and tanks in the fighting, and a Palestinian journalist and two civilians were killed by shelling, while nine other people, nearly all of them civilians too, were killed when four missiles fired by helicopter gunships struck near a mosque and two houses, Palestinian first aid officials said. At least 25 people were also injured.

The Palestinian Ma’an news agency quoted a witness, journalist Yassir Qadih, as saying that Fadal Shana’a, a cameraman for the Reuters news agency, was killed while he was in a jeep which was clearly marked ‘Press’.”

Television footage showed the jeep, with large signs reading “Press” and “TV”, with a large hole blown in the driver’s side.

The Israeli military said the target of the shelling was not the vehicle, but “those gunmen who attacked the force” and expressed “regret” for his death. But a spokeswoman added the incident occurred in a “fighting zone”.

“When press document such fighting they take a risk that they might get hurt, unfortunately,” she said. Gunmen operating from within residential areas were also putting their civilian population at risk, she charged.

Reuters however demanded an investigation into Shana’a’s death.

Three Israeli soldiers earlier died in an early-morning clash in the same area. The soldiers had spotted gunmen approaching the heavily guarded fence that separates the Gaza Strip from Israel, just south of the Nahal Oz crossing point. The soldiers pursued the gunmen but were killed in an ensuing clash.

Earlier Wednesday, four Hamas militants were killed, and five wounded, as they confronted an Israeli army force in the nearby eastern Gaza City’s Sheja’eya neighbourhood, also located near the border fence with Israel and not far from Nahal Oz. A fifth militant was killed in an airstrike in the area.

The Israeli military said the force was on a “routine operation” aimed at “pushing away threats” against the border fence, which has she said had come under repeated mortar fire.

Residents said the force pulled back across the border in the early hours of the morning, having stormed several houses and detained a senior Hamas member, who is the brother of Khalil el- Hayya, a Hamas leader in parliament.

The violence was the second outbreak in a week, the first being the attack on the Nahal Oz crossing point Wednesday last week.

The death toll was the highest since the killing of some 125 Palestinians in a five-day Israeli retaliation against rocket attacks from Gaza that ended early March. Since then, relative calm had prevailed in the Gaza Strip, sparking some reports of an informal, Egyptian-mediated truce between Israel and Hamas.

The West Bank administration of President Mahmoud Abbas and acting Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, which has revived peace negotiations with Israel over the past months, condemned the Gaza deaths, which it charged was “killing whatever hope there is left for a credible peace process”.

Abbas also called from Moscow on both Israel and the radical Islamic Hamas movement ruling Gaza to “cooperate with Egyptian efforts” to negotiate a truce.

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