Israel Pounds Gaza; Militants Blow Open Border Fence - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

6/29/06-JERUSALEM

Israel Pounds Gaza; Militants Blow Open Border Fence

 Striking from the air, land and the sea, Israeli forces Thursday fired on Gaza in the midst of intensified operations against Palestinian militants who have been holding an Israeli soldier captive for four days, the Israel Defense Forces said.

IDF said it attacked a car in Gaza City, which was carrying members of the Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad, sources in the group said. One person in the car was injured, sources said, and others in the vehicle escaped.

Israel's navy pounded northern Gaza, firing from the eastern Mediterranean Sea, while Israeli aircraft hit targets in the north and the south. IDF tanks joined in the barrage.

Along the Gaza border with Egypt, Palestinian militants detonated a land mine and opened a hole in the border fence, Palestinian witnesses told The Associated Press.

Palestinian security personnel formed a human cordon to prevent people from pushing through the gaping hole in the fence, witnesses told AP.

On the Egyptian side, soldiers gathered to prevent people from breaching the Palestinian cordon, they told AP.

Overnight, Israeli security forces arrested 64 Palestinians in the West Bank, who were suspected of being involved in terrorist activities, the Israeli army said.

Palestinian sources said those arrested included dozens of lawmakers from the ruling Palestinian party Hamas.

Those arrested were not taken into custody as a bargaining chip for Cpl. Gilad Shalit's release, the army said.

The raids came amid word that a body found early Thursday near Ramallah was that of Eliyahu Yitzhak Asheri, 18, a West Bank settler seized by Palestinian militants hours after Shalit was kidnapped early Sunday, Israeli security sources.

The body has been transferred to the Pathological Institute in Israel where a formal identification will be made, the security sources said. (Watch as slaying expected to deepen crisis -- 1:34)

On Wednesday, the Popular Resistance Committees displayed the identity card of the Jewish settler the group said it kidnapped Sunday, and said the captive would be "butchered" unless Israel stopped its incursion into Gaza.

The discovery of the body was the latest in a series of events that began early Sunday, when Palestinian militants tunneled into Israel and attacked a military post near Israel's border with Egypt and Gaza, kidnapping Shalit and killing two other soldiers.

Israeli troops immediately entered southern Gaza in the hours after the attack in an attempt to find the soldier and destroy the tunnel. After destroying the tunnel, the soldiers moved out and massed along the edge of Gaza.

The troops moved back into Gaza early Wednesday, and the operation continued Thursday with Israeli aircraft hitting targets in Khan Yunis in the south and in Gaza City to the north.

Israeli intelligence indicates Shalit is being held in the Khan Yunis refugee camp.

IDF distributed fliers in Beit Hanoun, Khan Yunis and the Sajaiyeh neighborhood of Gaza City, warning that the Israeli army is operating in the area for an unknown period of time in order to bring Shalit home.

Israeli tanks could be seen firing into the area as dusk fell. An Israeli airstrike in Khan Yunis targeted what the Israeli military said was a storehouse for Qassam rockets.

Defense Minister Amir Peretz told reporters Wednesday that he had approved new operations in northern Gaza in an effort to stop the firing of the homemade rockets into Israel.

The latest rocket attack happened early Thursday, when a Qassam landed in Sderot, Israel, causing no injuries, the Israeli military reported.

Cabinet members arrested

Hours before the 64 arrests in the West Bank, Israeli troops rounded up four members of the Hamas-dominated Palestinian Authority Cabinet and four other lawmakers.

Hamas' militant wing is one of three Palestinian groups that claimed responsibility for the soldier's kidnapping.

The four Cabinet members arrested were Labor Minister Mohammad al-Barghouti, Minister of Jerusalem Affairs Khaled Abu Arafeh, Minister of Local Governments Issa al Jaabari and Religious Affairs Minister Naif al Rajoub, the sources said.

Finance Minister Omar Abdul Razek was being questioned by soldiers, the sources said.

Like the 64 other Palestinians arrested in the West Bank raids, Israel said the ministers are suspected of being involved in terrorist activities and were not taken into custody as a bargaining chip for the soldier's release.

However, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat denied that claim and denounced Israel's "mass arrest" of the Palestinian officials.

"I think it's the wrong move," Erakat said in a CNN phone interview from Jericho.

"I think that Israeli attempts to bargain through bombardment of power stations and bridges and arrests of parliamentarians and ministers is just adding to the complexities."

The Israeli military has targeted the Palestinian infrastructure in its attacks over the past 48 hours.

Israeli warplanes have knocked out bridges connecting northern and southern Gaza and destroyed a power station in an effort to prevent militants from moving the captured soldier outside southern Gaza, according to the IDF.

On Monday, three Palestinian militant groups -- the military wing of Hamas, the Popular Resistance Committees, and the previously unknown Army of Islam -- claimed responsibility for Shalit's kidnapping. They issued a statement saying they would exchange information about the soldier if Israel freed all Palestinian women and youths under 18 who are in Israeli jails.

The Israeli government quickly rejected that offer and other calls to release Shalit as part of a prisoner exchange.

Pressure on Syria

Wednesday evening, Israeli jets buzzed the home of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Ladekye, outside Damascus. Israeli television reported that the president was at home at the time.

Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres complained that Syria allowed the exiled Hamas political leader Khalid Meshaal -- operating out of Damascus -- to order the kidnapping of the Israeli corporal. The flyover was seen as an attempt to bring pressure on al-Assad to rein in Meshaal.

Syrian state television called the Israeli flyover "an unacceptable, hostile and provocative act." Syria said its anti-aircraft batteries fired on the Israeli warplanes and chased them away.

Copyright 2006 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

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