Gaza Violence Leaves At Least 15 Dead, 95 Injured
The first bloody incident came when Israeli troops entered the town of Khan Younis searching for Palestinian militants. An Israeli helicopter, working in support of the tank incursion on the ground, fired a missile into a crowd outside a mosque in the city, killing 10.
Palestinian hospital officials said all 10 were civilians. Two others were killed and news reports said some of the 80 wounded in the operation included Palestinian fighters still carrying their weapons.
Israeli officials defended the incursion saying it was a “significant operation” against major terrorist infrastructure targets in the West Bank city.
Palestinian militants pledged to continue their operations and warned that the civilian deaths in Khan Younis would be avenged.
“The killing of civilians must be punished by the killing of civilians,” Mahmoud al-Zahar, a senior member of Hamas, told Reuters news service.
The operation drew criticism from international leaders, including European Union foreign minister Javier Solana who was in the region attempting to continue peace talks.
“I’ve been shocked by the number of people who have been killed and wounded,” Solana said.
In Washington, White House National Security spokesman Sean McCormack urged Israel to limit civilian casualties.
“Israel has a right to defend itself. Israel should, however, consider carefully the consequences of its actions — that includes the need to take every measure to prevent the loss of innocent life in fighting terror,” McCormack said.
The violence was not limited to clashes between Israelis and Palestinians. Hamas militants, posing as security forces, kidnapped and then killed Col. Rajeh Abu Lihya, the head of the Palestinian Authority’s anti-riot police unit.
The killing was reportedly to avenge Lihya’s alleged involvement in the death of a Hamas man last October.
Palestinian authorities demanded the immediate hand-over of the Hamas militants responsible for the attacks and dispatched police to capture them.
Police attempted to arrest three Hamas members at a roadblock in Gaza City, but the suspects escaped into a busy shopping area. When police attempted to enter a building believed to house the three, gunfire erupted. Two members of Hamas died in the fighting and some 15 other people were wounded, but all three militants reportedly escaped.
Police said they would continue to sweep through the area searching for Hamas members who may have been involved.