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Israeli assaults kill 6 in the Gaza Strip

The attacks are the latest in the response to militants' ambush at a border fuel depot.

April 12, 2008|Ashraf Khalil | Times Staff Writer

JERUSALEM — Six Palestinians were killed Friday in the Gaza Strip in airstrikes and battles with Israeli troops, according to Palestinian medical sources. The Israeli operation was the latest in a series after a Palestinian ambush this week at an Israeli fuel depot.

The Nahal Oz fuel terminal, the only source of gasoline for Gaza, remained closed after two Israeli civilian employees were killed Wednesday by Palestinian gunmen who infiltrated the border fence in a daylight raid.

Israeli tanks pushed into the narrow coastal strip hours after the attack on the fuel terminal, and at least 15 Palestinians have been killed in the strikes.

Early Friday, an Israeli airstrike near the southern Gaza town of Khan Yunis killed two fighters from Hamas, the Islamic fundamentalist group that took control of Gaza last summer. Hamas officials said an Israeli missile struck a small training site for militants.

Later in the day, four Palestinian teenagers, including a 13-year-old, were killed during an Israeli tank incursion into the Bureij refugee camp, according to Palestinian medical sources. The victims, all male, were said to be civilians apparently watching the running battles between militants and Israeli forces. Fifteen others were reported wounded, including a 10-year-old boy who was listed in critical condition.

Hamas did not claim responsibility for the raid at Nahal Oz. A collection of smaller militant groups, led by Islamic Jihad, said they had undertaken the attack in an attempt to kidnap Israeli soldiers.

Israeli officials maintain that in controlling Gaza, Hamas is responsible for all militant attacks launched from the territory.

Prolonged closure of Nahal Oz would quickly cause a fuel crisis in Gaza, where the borders were sealed by Israel and Egypt after the Hamas takeover. Human rights groups maintain that Israel remains responsible for the condition of Gaza's 1.5 million residents.

Keen to avoid a humanitarian crisis, Israeli officials have indicated that the fuel terminal will resume operations soon. But this week's attack has reopened the Israeli debate on the wisdom of keeping Gaza afloat, even at a subsistence level, while Palestinian militants continue firing rockets at nearby Israeli towns.

"Until Palestinians, first and foremost Hamas, pay a practical price for these terror attacks, nothing will change," said right-wing politician Avigdor Lieberman.

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ashraf.khalil@latimes.com

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Special correspondent Rushdi abu Alouf in Gaza City contributed to this report.

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