JERUSALEM – Hamas bombers attacked an Israeli-Gaza border crossing under the cover of fog Saturday, detonating two jeeps made to look like Israeli military vehicles and packed with hundreds of pounds of explosives.
The twin blasts, just hours before the Jewish Passover holiday, wounded 13 Israeli soldiers in what Hamas said was an attempt to break the nearly yearlong blockade of the territory. Four Hamas assailants died, Israeli officials said.
Meanwhile, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter met with senior Hamas leaders in Damascus, Syria, for a second day to hear their views, defying U.S. and Israeli warnings that doing so would grant the group legitimacy. The U.S. and Israel have labeled Hamas a terrorist organization.
An Israeli army commander said the Hamas operation was the most ambitious since Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, even though another planned attempt at the border was averted Saturday. The attack was the fifth on a crossing by Gaza militants since last week, and Hamas threatened to target the passages again.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak later visited the area. “When the time comes, Hamas will bear the consequences,” Barak said, in comments quoted by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz on its Web site.
Despite such attacks, Hamas has said it seeks a truce on the Gaza-Israel border, and Egypt has been trying to broker such a deal. Hamas’ motives for its ostensibly contradictory actions were not clear.
Hamas officials said they talked to Carter about ways to lift the Gaza closure and the possibility of swapping an Israeli soldier held in Gaza for Palestinian prisoners in Israel.