Nine Palestinians killed in Gaza

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Nine Palestinians were killed today during some of the fiercest fighting in Gaza in months, complicating efforts by visiting American envoys to revive peace talks.

The gun battles between Israeli troops and Palestinian militants turned one Gaza neighborhood into a war zone. As paramedics tended to the wounded, militants scrambled through the streets hoisting rocket launchers. A group of boys took cover behind a tin shack as gunfire crackled down a street.

At least five of the dead were armed men, including four from the Islamic Jihad group and one from Hamas, and four were believed to be bystanders, hospital officials said.

The fighting erupted near the Jewish settlement of Netzarim, in the heart of the teeming Gaza Strip.

The army said militants fired anti–tank missiles and set off a bomb, prompting the troops to fire back. Two Palestinians were killed in the incident, said Dr. Moawia Hassanain, a Palestinian hospital official.

Later, the army entered a Gaza City neighborhood near Netzarim, and a fierce battle flared between troops and gunmen. Six other Palestinians were killed, and several were wounded, Dr. Hassanain said. One of the wounded later died of his wounds.

As two Israeli tanks rumbled slowly along one road, a rocket–propelled grenade whizzed just a few yards in front of the two vehicles, leaving a streak of white smoke. The tanks swivelled their barrels and fired machine guns.

The fighting came as U.S. envoys John Wolf and David Satterfield met with Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia. The envoys, who were to meet Israeli officials as well, are trying to revive stalled peace negotiations.

Qureia said the American officials also demanded that he soon meet with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Qureia has balked at a summit with the Israeli leader until he gets assurances that it will produce results.

Islamic Jihad vowed to avenge the killing today of its gunmen, among them two local military commanders.

The Hamas militant group said the "barbaric Zionist aggression is a greeting and a reception for the American delegation."

Thousands filled Gaza streets for funeral processions later today. Gunmen fired weapons into the air and women watched from balconies as the bodies wrapped tightly in flags of Islamic groups were carried above the crowd on stretchers.