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Ceasefire in question as Israeli forces invade Gaza Strip

Nov. 5, 2008 11:43 A.M. (Updated: Nov. 5, 2008 11:43 A.M.)
Gaza - Ma'an - Tensions heightened in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, a day after six Hamas fighters died resisting a late-night Israeli incursion.

The six dead Palestinians belonged to the Al-Qassam Brigades, a military wing affiliated with Hamas.

Officials on both sides voiced concerns that the five-month long Hamas-Israel ceasefire could be in jeopardy.

Crowds of people attended the funeral processions for the six slain fighters in the city of Khan Younis and Al-Maghazi refugee camp on Wednesday.

In Khan Younis, the mourners walked from Nasser Hospital to the houses of the dead to the mosque for prayers and then to the cemetery.

Armed men marched at the front of the processions, firing in the air and swearing to avenge the killings.

While Palestinian officials considered Tuesday's incursion and air raids "a scandalous violation of the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire," Israel claims its operation was aimed at destroying a tunnel intended for abducting Israeli soldiers.

In retaliation to the Israeli crossover, Palestinian militant groups fired off dozens of mortar shells and homemade projectiles at Israeli targets. One landed in a public park in the center of Ashkelon, an Israeli city near the Gaza Strip.

Two Israelis were treated for shock. Security representatives also said that three soldiers were injured by shrapnel. Two of them suffered moderate to serious wounds, a medical official said.

In addition to the Israelis, six Hamas activists were killed and several others injured, Hamas said. One of the injured Gaza residents is reportedly a woman.

Israeli forces demolished two Palestinian homes in the central Gaza Strip neighborhood of Al-Qurara, near the Kissufim Gate.

The de facto government's director of Ambulance and Emergency Services within the Health Ministry identified the victims as 32-year-old Mazin Sa'da, 21-year-old Mahmoud Ba'lusha, 20-year-old Omar Al-Alami, 26-year-old Muhammad Awad, 19-year-old Wajid Muharib and 21-year-old Ammar Salihiyya. He added that several others had been injured.

Shortly before midnight on Tuesday, several Israeli tanks invaded Deir Al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip before progressing another 300 meters past the border fence, firing on Palestinian homes. As a result, 32-year-old Mazin Sa'da was killed and four other citizens were injured.

Simultaneously, Israeli warplanes launched several missiles at open areas east of Deir Al-Balah.

Meanwhile, Israeli military bulldozers demolished two homes that belonged to the Al-Hamaydi family near Wadi As-Salqa, and apprehended seven Palestinians from the same family, including three women.

On Wednesday morning, Israeli drones launched three missiles toward the northern Gaza Strip, one missile at the Al-Fukhari neighborhood in the southern Gaza Strip and two missiles at Al-Qarara, east of Khan Younis.

Initial reports indicated that there were casualties in the raid on the northern Gaza Strip.

Hamas's militant wing announced on Wednesday that it launched four homemade projectiles at Ashkelon, six toward Beeri Kibutz, seven at Magen and Miftaheim, another seven at Nir Izhaq and several others toward Yad Murdakhai, Alumim, Kfar Azza and an Israeli artillery station east of Gaza City.

The Brigades also said 22 mortar shells were fired at invading Israeli military vehicles in the central Gaza Strip, while a homemade projectile launched toward the Sufa military post.

Hamas officials affirmed they would block any Israeli attempt to invade the Gaza Strip, regardless of the ceasefire, "which will not prevent us from defending the Palestinian people." The wing's statement warned of retaliations to any further invasion attempts.

Islamic Jihad's Al-Quds Brigades and Fatah's Al-Aqsa Brigades also said in statements that they fired weapons in a joint operation. Two homemade projectiles were fired at the Megen military post, east of the Al-Maghazi Refugee Camp in the central Gaza Strip. Al-Quds said it fired two homemade projectiles at Sderot in retaliation for "the Israeli massacre in the central Gaza Strip."

An Israeli military spokesperson maintained that the incursion came after Israeli intelligence received reports that Hamas planned to abduct an Israeli soldier through a tunnel beneath the border.

"The Palestinians detonated the tunnel after Israeli forces besieged the building," he claimed.

With regard to the ceasefire, the spokesperson said the Israeli incursions intend to "protect the ceasefire," without elaborating on how military incursions would aid in this goal.

The de facto government held the Israeli government responsible for all the consequences of their "aggression," describing it as the most serious violation of the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire since it went into effect in June.

Islamic Jihad announced that the ceasefire would not prevent Palestinian resistance fighters from retaliating against Israeli violations and aggression, which culminated Tuesday night.

Fatah's Al-Aqsa Brigades also said it would direct their fighters to the Gaza Strip in order to prepare for retaliatory measures in light of Israeli violations, promising to "shell Israeli towns."

A spokesperson for the Palestinian National Resistance Committees said that "Israel shot dead the ceasefire agreement and alerted Palestinian factions that Israeli forces plan to (again) invade the Gaza Strip soon."

Representing Hamas, Fawzi Barhoom told Ma'an that "Israel committed a great aggression and violation of the truce last night."

He called on Israeli authorities to take responsibility for the consequences of such an attack, insisting that "what is being performed by the Al-Qassam forces is retaliation for Israeli aggressions."

"Israel will pay a high price for violating the truce," he added.

Barhoom said that Hamas informed Egyptian leaders about the violation and called on the country to take steps to make Israel adhere with the truce. He also called on other sides working under the truce to weigh in, as well.

Barhoum suggested that Israel timed the attacks to coincide with the American presidential election, hoping to keep out of the spotlight.

***Updated at 17:30 local time
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