Israeli soldiers killed at Gaza outpost

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The Independent Online

Two armed Palestinians killed at least three soldiers before being shot dead at a fog-shrouded Israeli army outpost in a Gaza Strip settlement today, Israeli media reported.

Two armed Palestinians killed at least three soldiers before being shot dead at a fog-shrouded Israeli army outpost in a Gaza Strip settlement today, Israeli media reported.

Two other Israelis were wounded, one critically, the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot reported. The army refused to confirm the report.

In the Morag settlement in southern Gaza, the army said soldiers were searching for a third militant who may have fled the area.

A caller to The Associated Press in Gaza City said the operation was a joint effort of the Islamic Jihad, the Popular Resistance Committee — an umbrella group of Palestinian factions — and the Ahmed Abu El-Rish Brigades, a group linked to Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction.

The caller said the groups had sent three militants into the Morag settlement and the "operation is still under way." He said a statement would be released.

The attack comes as Prime Minister Ariel Sharon faces mounting opposition to his plan to withdraw from all Gaza Strip and four West Bank settlements in September 2005. Morag is one of the first settlements slated to be evacuated.

In an interview with Israeli television on Wednesday, Sharon said the pullout would begin in the summer of 2005 and take about 12 weeks to complete.

The "disengagement plan" calls for the evacuation of some 8,500 Gaza settlers who live among 1.5 million Palestinians, and another 500 Israelis living in the northern West Bank.

Since Sharon announced his withdrawal plan in December, militants have increased attacks as the groups vie for leadership positions and try to make the pullout look like a Palestinian victory. Israel, meanwhile, has come down harder on Palestinians in Gaza to make sure it doesn't appear that the army is fleeing the area.

Israel's Army Radio reported that heavy fog in the area of the southern Gaza strip settlement of Morag, home to 36 families, made it possible for the militants to reach and enter the outpost.

Also in Gaza, doctors said a 10-year-old girl shot on 7 September had died of her wounds. Local UN officials blamed Israel. The military said there were exchanges of fire with militants, but soldiers did not shoot at the school.

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