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Bombing, gunfire kill 5 Israelis at crossing


Israeli soldiers are seen near the gate of the Karni Crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip late Thursday, where Palestinian militants set off a large bomb and stormed an Israeli base.Israeli soldiers are seen near the gate of the Karni Crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip late Thursday, where Palestinian militants set off a large bomb and stormed an Israeli base.
 (Associated PressAssociated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Israeli soldiers are seen near the gate of the Karni Crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip late Thursday, where Palestinian militants set off a large bomb and stormed an Israeli base.Israeli soldiers are seen near the gate of the Karni Crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip late Thursday, where Palestinian militants set off a large bomb and stormed an Israeli base. (Associated PressAssociated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Ken Ellingwood Los Angeles Times

JERUSALEM – Palestinian militants set off a massive explosion late Thursday at a commercial crossing into the Gaza Strip and then opened fire on civilian workers, killing five Israelis and wounding several others in the deadliest attack since Mahmoud Abbas was elected president of the Palestinian Authority on Sunday.

The assault took place about 11 p.m. at the Karni crossing, a busy portal between the Gaza Strip and Israel. Military sources said a truck loaded with explosives was detonated at the crossing, and three Palestinian gunmen then charged the terminal, spraying gunfire and hurling explosives.

The three Palestinians were killed in the subsequent shootout with soldiers, the army said.

Three Palestinian groups claimed joint responsibility: Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, Popular Resistance Committees and the military wing of Hamas. Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, which is loosely affiliated with Abbas’ Fatah movement, said more than 200 pounds of explosive was detonated.

Early today, an Israeli helicopter fired two missiles at a medical center run by a charity linked to Islamic Jihad in the Deir el Balah refugee camp, Palestinian officials said. A passerby suffered minor injuries.

Karni is the main opening for moving produce, building materials and other merchandise into and out of the Gaza Strip. The attack came hours after Abbas, who has called for an end to violent struggle against Israel, said he was ready to meet Palestinian security commitments under the U.S.-backed diplomatic initiative known as the road map. The plan calls upon the Palestinian leadership to rein in militants and reform a chaotic assortment of security forces.

“As you know, this plan starts with security commitments and eventually deals with the final status issues, like borders and Jerusalem. We are ready to implement our commitments. We hope the Israeli side will do the same,” Abbas told a group of Christian leaders.

There was no immediate reaction to the attack from Palestinian leaders.

A spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said the latest episode of violence would not affect plans for a meeting between the two leaders in the near future. The session has not been scheduled.

But the spokesman, Raanan Gissin, said the attack highlighted the need for the new Palestinian government to take action against the militants before any reconciliation can take place.

“Until real steps are taken to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure, there can be no progress toward a negotiated settlement,” Gissin said. “I dread very much that what began as a new start for the Palestinians is going to end up with this kind of action, with no action by the Palestinians.”

The attack appeared to reflect the determination of Palestinian guerrillas to carry out armed operations despite Abbas’ calls to hold fire. Confronting the militants may be the most difficult task facing the new president.

Abbas hopes to persuade the fighters to join a cease-fire aimed at halting more than four years of bloody uprising by the Palestinians. But the militants have insisted on their right to carry on their fight against Israeli forces and settlers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

A day earlier, Islamic militants killed a Jewish settler and wounded three Israeli soldiers with a roadside bomb in another part of the coastal strip.

A spokesman for Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade said Thursday’s bombing was not a message to Abbas.

“It’s a message for the Israeli Zionist enemy,” said the spokesman. “As long as the Israeli occupation is occupying our land, we will continue fighting.”

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