Children become latest victims in Middle East

Five Palestinians, including four children, were killed on Friday as Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen battled in Jenin, evoking memories of heavy April fighting in the West Bank town.

Violence was sweeping the occupied territories, with four Palestinians killed in the Gaza Strip and the army pouring into Nablus, hours after a gunman killed five Israelis, including a mother three of her children, in a nearby West Bank settlement.

In answer to Palestinian fire, Israeli tanks raked the western side of Jenin downtown with shells. Some struck about a kilometre to the north, killing five people in the Hayal-Basatin neighbourhood, medical sources said.

A six-year-old girl and a 50-year-old man were the first to be struck down by the random fire, Palestinian medical sources said.

The girl was identified as Sajida Fahmawi and the man as Hilal Shita.

Minutes later, six-year-old Ahmed Ghazawi and his brother, Jamil Ghazawi (12) were killed when an Israeli tank shell burst in the same area, the sources said.

About 23 Palestinians were wounded in the clashes, with two men listed in serious condition, medical sources said.

Tank and machine-gun fire strafed houses, security sources said.

The fighting erupted after the army briefly lifted a curfew on the town, which it had occupied on Wednesday following a suicide bombing in Jerusalem that killed 19 Israelis.

The bloodshed capped a night of violence that saw five Israelis and six Palestinians killed and followed a week in which two suicide bombings rocked Jerusalem, leaving 26 Israelis dead.

Pre-dawn, a 13-year-old Palestinian boy was killed and five members of his family wounded in Jenin when Israeli soldiers blew up a house close to their own, a Palestinian hospital source said.

The fighting has spiralled upwards in the Palestinian

territories despite Israel’s aggressive response to the latest kamikaze attacks and the start of a project to cordon off the West Bank with a security barrier.

Before sunrise, Israeli tanks poured into Nablus, close to the Itamar settlement where a Palestinian shot dead a mother, three of her children and their neighbour, who tried to come to their rescue.

The attack was claimed in an anonymous telephone call by the secular Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

The storming of Nablus raised to six the number of West Bank towns Israel has reoccupied since this week’s suicide bombings.

In the Gaza Strip, which is effectively cloistered off with an electric fence, fighting broke out Friday, claiming the lives of an eight-year old-boy, two labourers and a militant.

The boy, Abdelsamad Shamalkh, was hit in his chest by heavy machine-gun fire inside his house south of Gaza City, while seven other Palestinians were wounded in the area, Palestinian security sources said.

No clashes were taking place at the time, but tanks had rolled into the neighbourhood of Sheikh Ajlin, near the Jewish settlement of Netzarim, and were firing at pedestrians and houses there, the sources said.

A Palestinian woman and her two children and two other young girls were wounded in their homes, while a man and woman were wounded as they walked south of Sheikh Ajlin.

Hospital sources said the seven Palestinians were in moderate to serious condition.

At the northern Gaza Strip’s Erez border crossing into Israel, a Palestinian was killed after attacking Israeli border guards with a grenade and an automatic weapon.

Two bystanders died in an ensuing gun battle at the heavily fortified Israeli-controlled crossing,

witnesses said.

The men, who worked in the Erez industrial zone, were identified by medical sources as Wael Ajour (33) from Gaza City and Ismail Ishrafi (30) from the nearby Jabalya refugee camp.

The identity of the attacker was not immediately known.

Meanwhile, several shops and cars were blown up by the army in Jenin’s refugee camp.
The army was burning homes and conducting house searches, Palestinian security sources said.

More than 1 600 men have been arrested in Jenin since Israeli tanks entered the area early Wednesday.

Also on Friday, tanks rolled into the village of Wadi Birkin, adjacent to Jenin’s refugee camp.

The army imposed a curfew and started rounding up men, aged 15 to 50, at a UN school, security sources said.

The army said “an ongoing operation was taking place in Jenin, its camp and surroundings to dismantle its big terrorist infrastructure,” and that “troops only responded when Palestinian started opening fire.”

The Jenin camp, housing 15 000 people and known as a hotbed of Palestinian militancy, was the scene in April of much of the fiercest fighting in Israel’s six-week West Bank military offensive. - Sapa-AFP

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