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8 Israelis Wounded in Palestinian Attack

As many as four feared dead; attackers are slain. Incident is likely to set back peace process.

June 08, 2003|Alissa Rubin | Times Staff Writer

JERUSALEM — At least eight Israelis were wounded, and at least two critically, in a dawn attack today by three Palestinian gunmen who opened fire near the Erez border crossing in the northern Gaza Strip, according to Israeli army radio and military sources.

The Palestinians were killed in the ensuing shootout.

It was the first such incident aimed at Israelis since the Mideast summit in Aqaba, Jordan, on Wednesday and is likely to undermine the fragile peace process that is getting underway.

The toll of Israeli casualties was expected to grow. An Internet site operated by the Jewish settler movement reported that at least two of the Israelis were dead. There were other reports that as many as four Israelis were killed in the attack.

The three leading Palestinian militant groups all claimed responsibility for the attacks. Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah, the armed movement linked to Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, issued the claims, according to Israeli television. That made the incident seem like a deliberate challenge to new Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, who has promised to halt all terrorism, including attacks against members of the Israeli military and Jewish settlers in Palestinian areas.

The Israeli Cabinet is scheduled to meet today, and hard-liners who are opposed to the peace process are likely to use the incident to argue that there should be no easing of strict security measures.

An incident that took place in the West Bank just a day after the summit claimed the lives of two Palestinians. Israeli forces targeted three alleged Hamas militants who they believed were plotting a suicide bombing. When the three refused to give themselves up, Israel border security troops stormed their hide-out, killing two and injuring the third.

A search was underway near the site of today's violence to determine how the gunmen could get so close to where the Israelis were.

Israeli reports suggested that the Palestinians went undetected because they were wearing Israeli military uniforms.

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