truck bomb 224.88.
(photo credit: Channel 10)
A potentially disastrous terror attack at the Erez Crossing into the Gaza Strip was averted on Thursday when a Palestinian suicide bomber driving a truck loaded with four tons of explosives tried ramming his way into Israel, killing himself but causing no other casualties.
Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the attack on Erez, which is the main crossing point for international aid workers and Palestinians traveling to Israel for medical treatment.
The explosion created a huge ditch in the ground and caused serious damage to the surrounding buildings, forcing the IDF to shut down the crossing. As a result, 31 Palestinians who had permits to enter Israel for medical treatment had to return home.
The attack also caused power outages throughout northern Gaza, in Beit Lahiya, Beit Hanoun and Jabalya. Officials said that Erez would remain closed for several days until the damage was repaired.
An Islamic Jihad spokesman, calling himself Abu Ahmad, said a 23-year-old terrorist drove the truck, targeting the Erez terminal. He described the attack as a "successful martyrdom operation."
The truck exploded on the Gaza side of the border, blowing a hole in a pedestrian passageway leading out of the terminal and into Gaza. But no pedestrians were there because it was still early and the IDF said no soldiers were wounded.
The IDF was on high alert at the time of the attack due to an early-morning fog that covered the area. The Palestinians frequently use fog as cover for attacks against crossings into Israel.
Shortly after the explosion, an IAF helicopter fired a missile at a nearby jeep which the army said was accompanying the exploding truck. The army said that terrorists apparently planned to use the jeep to penetrate across the border after the explosion and to kidnap soldiers. One of the terrorists was killed.
Also Thursday, troops discovered a grenade launcher in a schoolyard in the Seja'iyeh neighborhood of Gaza city.
The attack on Erez came as a Hamas delegation returned to Gaza from Cairo, where it held talks with Egyptian Intelligence chief Omar Suleiman about a potential ceasefire with Israel. Hamas officials said Thursday that the round of talks had failed.
Abu Ahmad, the Islamic Jihad spokesman, linked the attack to the failed ceasefire talks and said the bombing was meant to "send a message" to Israel that if it did not accept a truce "Gaza is not going to be a place where you will enjoy stability."
Later in the day, IDF troops shot and killed a 22-year-old man who was marching, together with thousands of Palestinians, near the Karni Crossing. The march was organized by Hamas to protest the continued closure at the crossings.
John Ging, the Gaza director of the UN organization in charge of Palestinian refugees, urged Israel not to let attacks like the one on Erez halt the flow of goods into Gaza. "If you hand the agenda over to the extremists, then they are very happy about it. If it only takes one rocket to derail everything, then that's massive power," Ging said.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni related to the attempted attack before meeting French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who just two days ago acknowledged that France has held unofficial contacts with Hamas.
"The attempted attack this morning at the Erez crossing point should demonstrate to the international community that, while it demands that Israel take care of the situation in Gaza and open the crossing points, Hamas, which controls Gaza, is not interested in improving the lives of the population and doesn't take even minimal responsibility for Gazan residents," Livni said.
"The international community must continue to delegitimize Hamas and to support the peace process taking place with pragmatic elements," she said.
According to Israeli sources, Kouchner, during his talks in Jerusalem, said the meeting between a Hamas representative and a former French Foreign Ministry official did not represent a change in France's policy of not dealing with the organization until it recognizes Israel, forswears terrorism and accepts previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, in a meeting he held Thursday with the 27 EU ambassadors, also reiterated the importance of the continued delegitimization of Hamas.
Olmert's spokesman Mark Regev said the attempted attack on Erez was "another example of the Hamas leadership's policy of deliberately targeting the crossing points into and out of the Gaza Strip, the same crossing points that are the lifeblood of the people of Gaza."
AP contributed to the report.