Militants continue attacks on Gaza border



By Diaa Hadid

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – Israeli troops fended off Palestinian gunmen who assaulted a crossing on the Gaza border Thursday, thwarting the third attempt by militants to infiltrate into Israel in a week.

One Palestinian was reported killed in the clash, which followed a day of fighting between Israeli forces and Gaza militants that killed three Israeli soldiers and 21 Palestinians, including five children and a news cameraman.

Gazans are angry over a nearly yearlong blockade of their borders, causing shortages in almost all commodities in the seaside territory. Israel generally halts all shipments after attacks like Thursday’s.

Some analysts believe the militant group Hamas, which has controlled the Gaza Strip since last June, is trying to provoke an even worse situation for Gazans to ratchet up international pressure on Israel to relax the blockade.

With Egyptian efforts to mediate a Gaza cease-fire sputtering, Hamas has threatened to violently break through the Israeli border. The group blew up the wall along Gaza’s border with Egypt in January.

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Israel has greatly restricted the flow of fuel and goods into Gaza because of repeated rocket attacks on southern Israel. It tightened the blockade recently in response to heavy fighting. Israel considers Hamas, a militant Islamic group committed to destruction of the Jewish state, a terrorist group.

Gaza militants consider the border crossings humiliating symbols of the economic blockade.

On Thursday, three militants attacked Kerem Shalom, a crossing used to deliver humanitarian supplies into Gaza, Israel’s army said. Soldiers opened fire, killing one attacker and wounding another, the army said. The third militant escaped.

There was no claim of responsibility for the attack.

Last week, gunmen slipped over the border and killed two civilian workers at the Nahal Oz terminal, which pumps fuel into Gaza. On Wednesday, three Israeli soldiers were killed in a Hamas ambush when they pursued two militants seen planting a bomb next to the terminal.

The Kerem Shalom crossing was closed after Thursday’s attack. Later in the day, the fuel terminal was shut down, just a day after reopening, because it came under fire, the military said.

Mahmoud Zahar, a Hamas leader in Gaza, defended last week’s assault on the fuel terminal in a commentary Thursday in the Washington Post.

“Palestinians are fighting a total war waged on us by a nation that mobilizes against our people with every means at its disposal- from its high-tech military to its economic stranglehold,” he wrote. “Resistance remains our only option.”

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has repeatedly said Israel is ready to carry out a broad offensive in Gaza if attacks on Israel persist.

However, defense officials said it would likely be a few weeks before Israel acts, because of next week’s Passover holiday and the country’s 60th anniversary celebrations next month.

World leaders, including President Bush, are to attend the celebrations. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters.

Some 3,000 Palestinians, including journalists and members of rival political movements, marched through Gaza City on Thursday in the funeral procession for a TV cameraman killed while covering Israeli-Palestinian fighting.

Fadel Shana, a 23-year-old cameraman with the Reuters news agency, was among 21 Palestinians killed Wednesday – the bloodiest day in Gaza in more than a month. A militant died of his wounds Thursday, a Palestinian health official said.

Shana was taping Israeli tank movements in the distance when he and two bystanders were struck down.

The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem released pictures that it said showed the journalist was killed by a flechette shell, which spews hundreds of darts. The munition is not banned under international law, but the group said it shouldn’t be used in a crowded area like Gaza.

The military said it would not discuss munitions it uses, but insisted all are legal.

In response to a call for an investigation by the Foreign Press Association, the military said, “At the moment, there is no investigation going on.”

At the funeral, Shana’s body was wrapped in a bloodied Palestinian flag and journalists marched alongside carrying his broken camera and bloodstained flak jacket.

The marchers waved Palestinian flags and carried small posters of Shana posing with his camera. “Fadel Shana, goodbye, the victim of the truth,” the posters said.

Later, the body was taken to Shana’s hometown of Khan Younis in southern Gaza. About 3,000 Palestinians attended the funeral. “Fadel, Fadel, loved by God,” the crowd chanted.

Reuters released the final video taken by Shana just before his death. The footage shows a tank on a distant hilltop open fire. A tank shell is seen flying toward the camera followed by a large explosion before the screen goes black.

Pictures taken by colleagues showed Shana’s jeep on fire and his body lying next to it along with other bodies. Shana’s jeep was marked “press” and witnesses said the cameraman’s flak jacket identified him as a journalist.

Shana was killed near the Bureij refugee camp in central Gaza. He was in the area to film the aftermath of an Israeli airstrike that killed 12 Palestinians, including five children ages 12-15, according to medical officials.

The Palestinian Journalists Union declared a one-day strike to protest Shana’s death.

Eight other journalists have been killed covering the West Bank and Gaza Strip since 1992, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

Associated Press writer Aron Heller in Jerusalem contributed to this report