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« on: July 07, 2007, 05:49:42 PM »

Hamas: Qassams were warning to aggressive Israeli 'enemy'
By Amos Harel, Avi Isaacharoff, and Mijal Grinberg, Haaretz Correspondents

Hamas claimed responsibility Friday for firing two Qassam rockets at Israel from the Gaza Strip earlier in the day, for the first time since the militant group seized power in Gaza from Mahmoud Abbas' rival Fatah movement.

Israel Radio on Saturday quoted the group as saying that the attacks were in response to Israel's "occupation in Gaza and the [West] Bank," and were also a warning "to the enemy" over its "aggression."

One of the rockets hit an intersection and a second fell in an empty field, but no one was hurt, the Israel Defense Forces said.

Following the Gaza takeover, rocket attacks had largely been carried out by Islamic Jihad and other small armed groups.

Earlier Friday, IDF troops concluded operations against Qassam rocket launching crews that operate in open fields near the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanun.

During their operations in the Beit Hanun area, troops from the Givati Infantry Brigade's elite reconnaissance unit carried out extensive searches of orchards and fields that had been used as launching areas for Qassam rocket attacks on Sderot and other Israeli communities in the western Negev. The soldiers seized seven Qassam launching platforms, one of which had a Qassam attached to it fitted with a timer.

Givati soldiers began operations in the area on Tuesday as part of an IDF campaign against Qassam launching sites that included combined operations by infantry and armored units in the area of the al-Muazi and al-Bureij refugee camps in central Gaza.

An IDF source on Friday clarified that the operations in the Beit Hanun area and in central Gaza are of a defensive nature and are meant to stop terror organizations from attacking IDF troops in the area and from launching terror attacks against Israelis.

Thousands attend Gaza funerals of 11 militants killed in IDF raid

Thousands of Palestinians marched in Gaza on Friday for the funerals of 11 people, including nine militants from the ruling Hamas, who were killed in an Israel Defense Forces raid into the central Gaza Strip a day earlier.

Participants marched in the streets of Bureij refugee camp and gunmen fired rifles into the air, vowing revenge.

"This blood will only increase our determination to chase the enemy and to strike it and resist by all our might until the last drop of our blood," Hamas' armed wing said in a statement

Palestinians said at least 20 were wounded in IDF operations in Gaza on Thursday. In addition, two IDF soldiers were lightly hurt as gunmen fired rocket-propelled grenades at an army vehicle.

The IDF operation, which took place primarily in and around the Bureij refugee camp in central Gaza, pushed the rival Hamas and Fatah factions together in condemning the operation. Hamas leader and deposed Palestinian prime minister Ismail Haniyeh urged the Palestinians to fight back.

"We assert that our people have the full right to defend themselves and to confront these aggressions," Haniyeh said Thursday.

Israel sent infantry, tanks and bulldozers into Gaza on Thursday while militants laid mines and fired mortars at soldiers at the Erez passenger crossing between Israel and Gaza.

Nine militants were killed in clashes in and around the Bureij refugee camp in central Gaza, hospital officials said. Hamas identified six as its fighters, while three remained unidentified. Among the dead was Mohammed Siam, 37, the Hamas field commander in central Gaza, Hamas TV said.

Later in the day, missiles launched by Israeli aircraft killed two more Hamas men, the group said.

A Palestinian cameraman was seriously wounded while documenting the clashes, and though the origin of the gunfire cannot be confirmed, it was apparently IDF soldiers who fired repeatedly at him while Al-Jazeera cameras documented the incident.

The Al-Jazeera satellite channel aired footage of Imad Ranem, a cameraman for Hamas Al-Aqsa television network, lying on the ground after being hit, with his camera thrown beside him. He could then be seen getting shot twice more while lying on the ground. Medical sources in Gaza reported that both his legs had later been amputated and he is in critical condition.

An IDF source said Thursday that Ranem had been in the first line of fire and was not wearing a vest indicating he was a member of the press. The source added that the man was probably not a card-carrying reporter, because his footage would probably be used for Hamas propaganda, not news.

IDF troops had probed about 1 kilometer inside Gaza on a routine operation against rocket squads when Israel Air Force troops covering their advance spotted a group of armed Palestinians approaching, the military said. Aircraft fired at the gunmen and a ground battle developed between the patrol and the militants, the army said.

Hamas spokesman Abu Obeida said the group's fighters opened the clash by firing at an Israeli undercover unit.

The first clash erupted close to the Bureij refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip, a site of frequent clashes between gunmen and the Israeli army.

Witnesses reported a heavy exchange of fire as IDF tanks and bulldozers moved in and soldiers took positions on rooftops. Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants hit back with small arms fire, laid mines against the soldiers and fired mortars at the Erez passenger crossing between Israel and Gaza.

Two of the mortars landed on the Israeli side of the passage, which has been closed to most traffic since Hamas wrested control of Gaza last month, the army said. No one was injured, but the mortar shells ignited a fire in a road at the crossing, the army said.

Hamas: Qassams were warning to aggressive Israeli 'enemy'
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