Sat, Jul 07, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Israeli forces depart from Gaza Strip after incursion

AP , GAZA CITY, GAZA STRIP

Palestinians rush injured al-Aqsa TV cameraman Imad Ganem to get medical care after he was shot by Israeli troops while he was filming Palestinians removing the bodies of two dead militants in the Gaza Strip on Thursday.

PHOTO: AFP

Israeli forces pulled out of the Gaza Strip early yesterday after a fierce military incursion that left 11 Palestinian militants dead and pushed Gaza's rival factions together in urging their people to fight back.

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

The raid, the latest in a series of similar operations aimed at Palestinian rocket squads and militant groups in the chaotic coastal territory, came as the Islamic group Hamas worked to solidify its regime after sweeping out its Fatah rivals in a lightning campaign last month.

Hamas has initiated few attacks against Israel, but also has not stopped other groups from firing rockets at Israeli towns almost daily, provoking Israeli military action and drawing Hamas forces in.

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 those who were killed was Mohammed Siam, 37, 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.

Israel frequently sends forces a short distance into Gaza, where they look for tunnels that might be used for infiltrations or attacks. Armored bulldozers are also used in border areas to flatten land used by militants to launch their short-range homemade rockets.

A spokesman for Fatah joined Ismail Haniyeh, the deposed Palestinian prime minister who now heads the Hamas regime in Gaza, in condemning the Israeli operation and urging Palestinians to fight back.

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

Fatah official Hazem Abu Shanab echoed his thoughts.

But the two rivals squabbled on another front on Thursday, when about 400 Fatah civil servants were prevented from entering their Gaza offices in an argument over the official weekend.

The Hamas-dictated work week in Gaza runs from Saturday to Wednesday, with Thursday and Friday assigned as the weekend.

Salam Fayyad, the new Palestinian prime minister, announced the Palestinian work week would run from Sunday through Thursday.

Hamas on Thursday barred workers from entering government offices, saying they were closed because it was the official weekend.

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