Israel kills 17 in Gaza after troops die in clash

GAZA Wed Apr 16, 2008 7:38pm BST

1 of 9. A man carries a wounded Palestinian girl after witnesses said she was injured from an Israeli air strike in the central Gaza Strip April 16, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

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GAZA (Reuters) - Israeli forces killed 17 Palestinians, most of them civilians including a Reuters cameraman, in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip on Wednesday, medical officials and witnesses said.

The attacks came after three Israeli troops died in a Hamas ambush near a border fuel pipeline. But despite the bloodiest day's toll in more than a month, Israel allowed European-funded fuel into Gaza to keep its only power plant operational.

"The fuel has started to go through," said the European Union official, referring to the Nahal Oz terminal, close to the scene of clashes in which the three soldiers died.

Seventeen Palestinians, at least 11 of them civilians, were killed in Israeli assaults, Hamas and medical officials said.

The dead included Fadel Shana, 23, a Reuters cameraman who was felled while trying to film in central Gaza. Footage from Shana's camera showed an Israeli tank firing a shell in his direction from several hundred metres (yards) away.

An Israeli military source did not immediately address the cause of Shana's killing, telling Reuters only that the area saw "ongoing fighting" and was therefore dangerous for journalists.

At least three youths, a 67-year-old man, and four Hamas gunmen were also among the Palestinian dead. Signalling escalation, Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri said his group's armed wing were authorised to "strike the Zionist enemy everywhere".

The Western-backed administration of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who lost Gaza to Hamas last June, censured the Israeli attacks but made clear peace talks would stay on track.

Abbas's prime minister, Salam Fayyad, told reporters that the negotiations were meant to stop Israel's "incursions, siege and daily killing".

FUEL LIMITS

Nahal Oz was shut down by Israel on April 9 after militants killed two Israeli civilians at the facility. Israel's Defence Ministry had said it would reopen the pipeline on Wednesday, but the latest attack had raised doubts fuel would flow again soon.

Kanan Abaid, deputy chairman of the Palestinian Energy Authority in the Gaza Strip, said before pumping resumed that the power plant only had enough fuel to operate until Saturday.

The EU official said the goal was to provide "as much (fuel) as can be possibly pumped today" because the army had yet to tell the Europeans whether they would be allowed to make further deliveries to the plant on Thursday and Friday.

The plant supplies power mainly to residents of Gaza City and its surrounding areas, home to 800,000 people.

A strike by Gaza petrol station owners has been preventing distribution of limited Israeli supplies of gasoline and diesel to the general public.

Israeli officials accuse Hamas of preventing distribution of petrol and diesel in order to create a crisis to pressure Israel to ease a blockade it tightened after the Islamists took over.

In a development likely to stoke further anger in Israel, Hamas said former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who planned to travel later in the day to Egypt, would meet in Cairo with two of its Gaza-based leaders, Mahmoud al-Zahar and Saeed Seyam.

"Mr Carter asked for the meeting. He wanted to hear the Hamas vision regarding the situation, and we are interested in clarifying our position and emphasising the rights of our people," Hamas official Ayman Taha said.

Carter's delegation in Israel declined to comment.

Zahar, speaking in Gaza before leaving for Egypt, said Carter had been able "to break all the restrictions preventing him from meeting Hamas leaders".

Israeli leaders have shunned Carter over his contacts with Hamas, which has rejected Western demands to recognise Israel, renounce violence and accept existing Israeli-Palestinian interim peace deals.

Carter, who began a Middle East visit on Sunday, said in Arab East Jerusalem it would be counterproductive to exclude Hamas completely from "conversations or consultations".

(Reporting by Adam Entous, Nidal al-Mughrabi, Ari Rabinovitch, and Mohammed Assadi; Writing by Ari Rabinovitch, Editing by Stephen Weeks)

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