Israeli Strikes After Soldier Killed In Ambush

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TWO Palestinians were wounded in an Israeli air strike targeting a Palestinian motorcyclist in the southern Gaza Strip on Tuesday, witnesses and medics said.

The Palestinian hit by the strike in the southern town of Khan Younis was seriously wounded, they said. A passer-by was also wounded.

The raid came few minutes after occupation soldiers entered the Strip east of the southern city of Khan Younis. The soldiers were seen opening fire with automatic rifles on open areas near the border, they said. There were no immediate reports of casualties. The Israeli military had no immediate comment on the reports.

This comes after Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said that Israel needed to respond immediately to the killing of an Israeli occupation soldier in a bomb blast on the Gaza border earlier in the day.

‘If there is an incident on the border and someone shoots, there’s a bomb there or the smuggling of arms, Israel needs to respond immediately,’ said Livni.

In a bid to regain her plummeting popularity ahead of the elections on February 10, Livni added: ‘Israel doesn’t need to demonstrate restraint against terror in the Gaza Strip. This was true before the operation, and it is true after it.’

Moreover, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak told military academy cadets on Tuesday that the incident ‘is serious, and it cannot be accepted and we will respond. There is no benefit in specifying the response.’

Barak claimed that Israel’s recent offensive in Gaza, code-named ‘Operation Cast Lead,’ was ‘a very hard blow for Hamas.’

He said the campaign did not mean that Hamas would no longer be Israel’s enemy, or that there would be no more attempted attacks along and inside the border, or no other incidents that Israel would have to respond to.

Earlier in the morning, Israeli occupation forces shot and killed a Palestinian in Deir el-Balah west of Gaza shortly after an Israeli soldier was killed in a blast near the border between Gaza and occupied territories south of the Strip.

The martyr was identified as Anwar al-Dreim, 24. It was not immediately clear what type of fire, artillery or helicopter gunships, killed him, according to medics.

For the first time since the unilateral ceasefire declarations by Israel and Hamas, an explosive device exploded near the Kissufim crossing along the border with the Gaza Strip.

The blast occurred as an Israeli occupation army force patrolled the border fence in the southern Gaza Strip. Palestinian sources reported that exchanges of fire erupted in the area, including sniper fire.

The Gaza incident took place as the discussions between the Palestinian factions’ representatives and Egyptian intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, continued in Cairo in a bid to reach an agreement on continuing the ceasefire.

Israeli aircraft pummelled the southern Gaza Strip early on Wednesday morning, destroying parts of Rafah, witnesses said.

Two strikes were reported by residents, who fled the scene by the hundreds. Ma’an’s correspondent in Gaza said three separate strikes damaged buildings around Rafah.

No injuries were immediately reported.

Israel said the pre-dawn strikes targeted ‘Hamas smuggling tunnels’ in the southern Gaza Strip, but that the attack was retaliatory.

Meanwhile, Israel reopened commercial crossings into the Gaza Strip on Wednesday morning, without conditions, the Palestinian Authority said.

The crossings had been closed in response to a deadly attack on an Israeli patrol near Gaza on Tuesday morning. One officer was killed in the attack and three others were injured, one seriously.

According to Ra’ed Fatouh, a Crossings Authority official, Israel informed the PA ‘that they reopened the borders in the Strip for dozens of trucks at 7:00am this morning.’

Fatouh also said Israel allowed in 110 trucks, 82 of which were carrying humanitarian aid, through the Karem Shalom crossing in southern Gaza.

Other shipments of dairy, flour, fruit, agricultural equipment and fertilized eggs were allowed in, as well, he said, reporting that 36 such trucks crossed the border.

Israel is also planning to permit 80 trucks to cross the Karni crossing, east of Gaza City, that are loaded with wheat and fodder.

In addition, the PA said industrial fuel, needed for the Strip’s sole power plant, will be allowed through the Nahal Oz crossing point, which is near Karni. Cooking gas will also be on that shipment, he noted.

l Palestinian acting President Mahmud Abbas confirmed on Tuesday that the Palestinian Authority has called for an international investigation for Israeli war crimes.

In a news conference, Abbas said: ‘We demand an international investigation and we call upon the International Criminal Court to do it.

‘We will do our best to prove that Israel committed crimes,’ the acting president said.

But Abbas also reserved criticism for Palestinians he also holds responsible for inciting Israel’s brutal assault, saying: ‘There are voices, such as Hamas leader Khaled Mishaal, Ahmed Jibril, Shallah and others, who speak of the will of the people and their homeland.

‘They do not live on the soil of this land; therefore, it is not their right to direct us and if they want to talk, let them be reasonable or let them be silent,’ the acting president added.

He continued: ‘We want a national dialogue, without conditions and based on the formation of a government that does not bring the siege back and that allows for democratic elections,’ he added.

The detention of Hamas member by Fatah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank will scupper reconciliation talks between the rival Palestinian factions, a Hamas official was quoted as saying on Tuesday.

Hamas and Fatah are expected to resume reconciliation talks in Cairo on February 22, Salah el-Bardawil told Egypt’s Al-Masry Al-Yom newspaper, but warned that the movement will not attend while a ‘single Hamas prisoner’ is behind bars.

‘We will not sit down with Fatah until they release Hamas prisoners and whoever does not want to release them does not want reconciliation,’ he said.

Bardawil headed a delegation of Hamas officials from Gaza who met Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman at the weekend to bolster a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip and resume Palestinian unity talks.

Another delegation member, Jamal Abu Hashim, met Fatah official Azzam al-Ahmed on Monday in a preparatory meeting for the reconciliation talks. ‘It was a consultative meeting to break the ice and to go forward toward reconciliation,’ Ahmed said at a press conference.

Asked about Hamas’s demand for the release of prisoners, Ahmed told reporters on Monday: ‘We want to sit down at the table without conditions.’

The Egyptian-mediated talks between Fatah and Hamas broke off in November when Hamas boycotted a meeting in Cairo, saying Fatah was continuing to arrest its members in the West Bank.

‘Hamas needs guarantees from others, and how will it go to reconciliation talks while 650 of our leaders are in Abu Mazen’s jails?’ Bardawil said, referring to Abbas.

Egypt has proposed February 22 as the date for the start of a dialogue between Palestinian groups, several of the groups said in reports published on Tuesday.

Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit of Egypt, which has been mediating between the groups, told reporters: ‘We will invite the Palestinian groups. We hope we will succeed in this in the third week or at the end of the third week of February.’