May 23, 2008 in Nation/World

Gaza blast setback for opening territory

Steven Gutkin Associated Press
 

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – A Palestinian detonated a powerful truck bomb at the main pedestrian crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip on Thursday, causing extensive damage that dealt a serious blow to Gazans’ hopes of opening up their sealed-off territory.

Although the bomber killed only himself, the magnitude of the explosion – which shook buildings for miles – raised fears that Palestinians are adopting tactics used by al-Qaida, Hezbollah and other extremist groups.

The attack at the Erez crossing also reinforced skepticism about Egyptian-led efforts to bring a truce to the violence-wracked area and hurt international efforts to ease the Israeli-led blockade of Gaza, imposed after Hamas militants seized control of the coastal territory almost a year ago.

Later, at the Karni cargo crossing some 5 miles away, a protest against the blockade turned violent, with Palestinians accusing Israeli troops of firing into the crowd of thousands, killing a 22-year-old man and wounding 16 other people.

In chaotic scenes, swarms of people darted along a narrow road near the crossing, fleeing tear gas and live bullets as Israeli tanks rumbled into Gaza from Israel. The military said soldiers opened fire after spotting armed men in the crowd, including one carrying an anti-tank missile, and that the gunmen returned fire.

“Zionists, death is coming,” loudspeakers blared. “You will fall, your corrupt state will fall,” the crowd chanted – reflecting the intensity of Gazans’ bottled up frustration a year into Hamas’ turbulent rule, a period in which 80 percent of Gaza’s adult population has descended into poverty, according to the United Nations.

The violence at Gaza’s border crossings came as Egyptian mediation efforts to forge an Israeli-Hamas cease-fire ran into trouble, with several Hamas leaders claiming the truce talks had failed. The leaders, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the group had not made an official statement, blamed the breakdown on Israel’s failure to accept a six-month truce.

Israeli military officials, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity citing the lack of a formal announcement, confirmed that Amos Gilad, a senior Israeli defense official, will travel to Egypt on Sunday for more talks – a sign the truce remains on the table.

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