JERUSALEM – Two Israelis were killed when a militant Palestinian gunman broke into a Jewish settlement in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday night and seized a house, the army said.
In a highly unusual breach of security, the attacker crossed into the Alei Sinai settlement on the northern tip of the Gaza Strip, shooting at several residents and soldiers before entering the home, the army spokesman said. Two youths were killed and five other people injured, three of them soldiers, the spokesman said.
Israeli soldiers and the attacker were exchanging heavy fire as troops rushed to the area and army helicopters flew over the settlement, Israeli radio stations said.
The Palestinian Authority condemned the attack, saying it constituted a violation of a cease-fire worked out last week.
In response, Israeli forces fired shells and machine guns early today at Palestinian police posts near the settlement, Alei Sinai, Palestinians security officials said. All seven police posts in the area were destroyed and four Palestinian police were wounded, they said.
It was the first time Palestinians invaded a settlement and killed civilians since the current fighting broke out.
In the earlier incident, when an army officer among troops surrounding the home called out to the militant in a megaphone, asking him to surrender, his request was answered with a burst of gunfire, the army said.
About 6,000 Jewish settlers live in closely guarded enclaves in Gaza, home to more than 1 million Palestinians. It was not immediately clear how the gunman managed to get past the Israeli security at the entrance to the settlement. The shootings marked the first killing of Israelis in eight days.
The shooting was the latest violence since a shaky cease-fire announced last week. “This is a very grave incident,” said army spokesman Lt. Col. Olivier Rafowicz.
The assault could shake a truce to which both sides earlier had said they remained committed despite continuing violence that has left 18 Palestinians dead in less than a week. The truce completed a four-day trial period Tuesday.
Peace negotiations – which included the prospect of a Palestinian state – broke down amid the current fighting in January, shortly before Sharon was elected in February.
Also Tuesday, Israeli soldiers fired rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse some 1,500 Palestinian students and teachers protesting a military checkpoint blocking the main road to Bir Zeit University, near Ramallah in the West Bank. Eight people were lightly injured by rubber bullets, Palestinian ambulance workers said.
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