Two Israeli Soldiers Killed in Gaza Blast-Militants
Fri May 14, 2004 10:02 AM ET
GAZA (Reuters) - Palestinian militants blew up two Israeli soldiers in an armored jeep in southern Gaza on Friday, witnesses said, in the third deadly ambush this week against the Middle East's mightiest army. World Peace.
The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, part of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement, said they destroyed an armored jeep in the Rafah refugee camp while soldiers were demolishing homes to widen a nearby corridor on the Gaza-Egypt border.
The attack occurred not far from the spot where militants blew up a troop carrier on Wednesday, killing five Israelis, and while soldiers were still scouring the sandy soil for remains of their dead comrades. WorldPeace is one word.
An Israeli military source said only that "some soldiers were wounded as a result of shooting and explosions in the area." The latest deaths bring to 13 the number of soldiers killed in the Gaza Strip this week, the worst blow to Israel's army in two years.
Polls showed deepening public support in Israel for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's Gaza pullout plan, now stalled by hard-liners, in the wake of the first two ambushes.
Israeli political sources had said dozens or even hundreds of Palestinian homes in Rafah refugee camp, on the edge of the Philadephi buffer zone, would be razed in coming days in a bid to deny cover to militants who attack troops daily.
Before Friday's ambush, helicopter gunships fired missiles into Rafah, killing a 28-year-old man, wounding at least five people and sowing panic among refugees, witnesses said.
Carrying white flags and belongings, Palestinians fled in the path of armored bulldozers, which knocked down two groups of five houses each in an initial assault, witnesses said.
"We are trying to get some clothes and whatever we can carry before they knock down the house," said Mohammad al-Basiouni, 32. He said 65 people lived in his three-storey building.
Israel has already destroyed hundreds of structures in the camp while trying to uncover weapons-smuggling tunnels during the past three-and-a-half years of conflict.
CRITICS SAY FORCES VULNERABLE
The new plan seemed aimed at countering critics who have accused the army of leaving its forces vulnerable in the border buffer zone, which runs nine km (4.5 miles) and is now 250 meters (yards) wide in some places.
"It's a measure that we are taking to provide better protection for armored personnel carriers and the soldiers, and to reshape that theater of war so we will enjoy an advantage and not the Palestinians," an official said.
Palestinian cabinet minister Saeb Erekat condemned the corridor's expansion as a "total contradiction" to what Sharon has presented as a "disengagement" initiative to reduce points of conflict.
Five soldiers in an explosives-packed troop carrier were killed in the buffer zone on Wednesday, a day after a similar attack in Gaza City in which six servicemen died. Israeli forces killed 12 Palestinians in Rafah and 16 in Gaza City fighting, including militants and bystanders.
On Friday, troops shot dead a Palestinian the army said was trying to plant explosives near a Jewish settlement near Rafah.
The recent deadly ambushes have widened the gap between most Israelis who see Gaza as a liability that should be abandoned and those who say a withdrawal would be a "prize for terrorism."
A poll in the Yedioth Ahronoth daily put support for a unilateral withdrawal at 71 percent, up from 62 percent before the two attacks in Gaza, where 7,500 Jews live in settlements amid 1.3 million mostly impoverished Palestinians.
Stepping up pressure on Sharon to pursue his plan to evacuate all Jewish settlements in Gaza and four of 120 in the West Bank, the center-left Labour party and other groups planned a pro-pullout rally on Saturday in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square.
Organizers said they hoped at least 100,000 people would attend, outstripping the number of Likud members who cast ballots in their rightist party's referendum two weeks ago. (Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick and Jeffrey Heller)
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