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Israeli strikes in Gaza after attack on army post
Updated: 2004-06-28 09:35

Palestinian militants tunneled under an Israeli military post in the Gaza Strip Sunday and blew it up in a huge explosion that wounded six soldiers.

Israeli helicopter gunships launched two separate missile strikes in Gaza City early Monday, witnesses said, hitting two metal workshops but not causing any major injuries.

Israeli soldiers check their weapons after leaving the Gaza Strip at the Kisofim crossing June 28, 2004. [Reuters]
A Palestinian policeman and a teen-ager were killed by troops after the blast at the army post, Palestinian medics and witnesses said. The Israeli army said there was heavy Palestinian fire from a nearby refugee camp, where the two died, and that troops fired back.

Military commanders said the militants launched a two-pronged attack, first blowing up the army base with a massive bomb and then opening heavy gun and mortar fire at rescue workers and soldiers who rushed to the scene.

Israeli television said one soldier was believed to have been killed in the military post blast, but emergency services were uncertain there had been any fatalities. They said rescuers were searching for a soldier thought trapped in the rubble.

The attack, near a Jewish settlement and the Palestinian Khan Younis refugee camp, was certain to fuel debate in Israel over Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to evacuate troops and settlers from the Gaza Strip by the end of 2005.

The Islamic Hamas movement and the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an armed group in Palestinian President Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction, both claimed responsibility for the attack on a road leading to southern Gaza's Gush Katif settlement bloc.

The groups said 3,300 pounds of explosives were detonated at the end of a 350-yard tunnel dug under the heavily fortified military post.

They called it retaliation for Israel's assassination of two top Hamas leaders earlier this year as well as the killing of an al-Aqsa Brigades leader in the West Bank Saturday.

Hours after the strike, Israeli helicopter gunships launched two attacks on metal foundries in the Zeitoun neighborhood of eastern Gaza City. The army has said weapons and rockets are produced in the workshops, while Palestinians say they are civilian sites.

Medics found six wounded soldiers amidst the rubble after the blast at the military post. One of them was said to be in a critical condition.

The blast triggered the collapse of a metal roof and walls on top of soldiers in a courtyard of the barracks. A commander at the scene said the tunnel was dug from the Khan Younis camp.

Initial reports suggesting scores of soldiers had been killed in the explosion prompted Palestinian celebrations.

Cheering crowds of tens of thousands filled the streets of Gaza City. Gunmen fired in the air.

"God pleased our hearts. An eye for an eye," the crowds chanted.

After the attack on the military post, the army sealed off the Gaza Strip and blocked Palestinian travel along two main roads in the coastal area, isolating southern Gaza from the northern section.

Violence has surged in Gaza since February when Sharon announced the plan to quit the desert territory, which many Israelis see as a costly liability.

The cabinet approved his initiative in principle on June 6 despite opposition from pro-settler right-wingers who say it would be a victory for Palestinian militants and are against ceding land captured in the 1967 Middle East war.

Militants sworn to destroying Israel want to portray any withdrawal as a success for their efforts, while the army is determined to smash them before pulling out of the strip.

Scores of Palestinians were killed in a huge raid into Gaza last month after the deaths of 13 soldiers in ambushes.

Israeli forces Sunday ended their deadliest raid in the West Bank for months after killing the al-Aqsa Brigades commander.

Al-Aqsa Brigades militants have carried out dozens of suicide bombings and attacks against Israelis in a Palestinian uprising that began in 2000.

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