August 31, 2006
Editor’s note: See also:
By IBRAHIM BARZAK, Associated Press Writer
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – Israeli troops launched airstrikes on the
outskirts of Gaza City and exchanged gunfire with Palestinian
militants Wednesday, killing six people, officials said.
Israeli forces have been searching for smuggling tunnels and
explosives in Gaza City’s Shijaiyeh neighborhood since the weekend
and have killed a total of 16 Palestinians, most of them militants,
Among those killed Wednesday was a 14-year-old boy who was shot and
killed as he gathered with a group of people to watch the fighting,
hospital officials said. At least one of those killed was a gunman,
Troops also flattened crops, destroyed greenhouses and chicken coops
and uprooted dozens of trees on Wednesday, residents said. The army
had no comment on the report about the destruction. In recent years,
troops have routinely destroyed farming areas and orchards in the
Gaza Strip, citing the need to deprive gunmen and rocket squads of
About 17,000 people have been without power and running water since
the operation began, residents said. The Israeli army said an
electricity pylon was hit but has since been repaired.
The operation is part of a major military offensive Israel
launched in late June after Hamas-allied militants captured an
Israeli soldier in a cross-border raid. The offensive is also
intended to stop rocket attacks from Gaza at Israeli border towns.
The army said that during Wednesday’s searches, troops discovered a
large smuggling tunnel stretching some 150 yards from a house toward
the Karni cargo crossing between Gaza and Israel.
The crossing has been closed for much of this year due to warnings of
possible attacks. U.S. diplomats have proposed stationing
international observers at Karni to improve security and expand its
opening hours. Israeli and Palestinian officials have said they will
consider the idea.
Yuval Diskin, the head of Israel’s Shin Bet domestic security agency,
was quoted Wednesday by Israeli media as saying Palestinian militants
are smuggling large quantities of weapons through tunnels under the
Gaza-Egypt border. On Tuesday, he told a parliament committee the
militants were digging 20 tunnels under the border.
“Except for tanks and planes, they are smuggling everything,” he told
the panel, according to a participant.
The smuggling skyrocketed after Israel withdrew its troops from Gaza
a year ago, Diskin said. The border is now controlled by the
Palestinians and Egypt, with the help of European monitors.
In the West Bank, meanwhile, Palestinian President Mahmoud
Abbas criticized Palestinian militants for continuing to fire rockets
at Israeli border communities.
“What is happening in Gaza as a result of rockets fired in vain must
stop right now because there is no national interest in this
continuing,” Abbas said Wednesday.
He said dozens of Gazans have been killed and many more injured in
recent months. “For what?” Abbas said in a speech to some 3,000
Palestinian civil servants protesting non-payment of salaries by the
The Palestinian government is broke, mainly due to an international
freeze on aid payments to the Palestinian Authority. Despite
the cash crisis, Hamas has rejected international demands that it
recognize Israel and renounce violence.
As a result, Hamas has largely been unable to pay 165,000 civil
servants, including some 40,000 teachers and 85,000 members of the
security forces. The civil servants’ union has threatened to launch
an open-ended strike next week, coinciding with the start of the new
In Gaza City, some 200 children of civil servants held a protest
outside the office of Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of
Hamas. The children said they would go hungry soon if their parents
“We are suffering, we are starving and the government should be
responsible for this,” said Abed Khamid Hamos, 14, one of the young
protesters at Haniyeh’s office.
The children held banners saying their families cannot afford to send
them to school.
Some 300 unemployed Palestinian laborers surrounded the parliament
building Tuesday, demanding welfare payments, scuffling with police
and waving empty plates in another challenge to the beleaguered