erez 298 .
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Two Palestinian gunmen who planned to launch a combined bombing and shooting attack on the Israeli side of the Erez terminal crossing in northern Gaza, were killed by IDF soldiers and Israeli civilian security guards before dawn on Thursday. One of the gunmen wore an explosives belt, which blew up during the gun battle that erupted with Israeli security forces.
Hours later, a third Palestinian was killed and another wounded by soldiers, after they were spotted attempting to detonate a bomb south of the crossing.
Israeli security officials accused Palestinian policemen manning a nearby position of complicity in the attack, saying they appeared to have received prior warning of the terrorists' intentions, and failed to stop them despite the fact that they passed close by the position as they headed towards the Israeli side. The officials also noted that minutes before the attack, the stream of Palestinian workers passing through the crossing to work in Israel was suddenly stopped, arousing suspicions that alerted soldiers and security guards on the Israeli side.
Fatah's al-Aksa Brigades and the Popular Resistance Committee later claimed joint responsibility for Thursday's attack. The two dead gunmen were identified as Marwan Amar and Mohammed Ramadan. Next to their bodies, soldiers found two Kalashnikov rifles, 8 ammunition clips, four grenades and wire cutters.
In recent days terrorists in the Gaza Strip have intensified their efforts to launch attacks against soldiers and Israeli civilians, OC Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Yoav Gallant said
in a briefing with military reporters. Fifteen terrorists who either were involved in Kassam rocket attacks, attempting to place bombs or infiltrate into Israel, were killed by IDF troops. "Our response is best described as cautious warfare, terrorists were accurately hit, from the air and on the ground." The IDF will continue taking the initiative, and will dictate the time and place in which it chooses to respond, Gallant said.
Shlomo Saban, the terminal manager on behalf of the Defense Ministry told The Jerusalem Post that minutes before the attack "the stream of workers suddenly stopped, no Palestinian policemen were spotted at their post," he said. According to Saban, 2,452 workers passed through the crossing before the attack began.
Lt. Eyal Freiman of the Israeli coordinating office, who was duty officer at the time, became suspicious when he noticed that at the peak hour when the crossing is usually jammed full, no workers appeared. He immediately called his Palestinian counterparts at a nearby position to inquire the reason. The Palestinians told him that it was because of the harsh weather conditions and began making excuses, arousing his suspicions further, an IDF officer said. Freiman, immediately alerted the army and civilian guards at the crossing and relayed his fears.
Minutes later, Givati Brigade soldiers and a civilian security guard manning a frontal position spotted two Palestinians approaching the Israeli side. The Palestinian gunmen opened fire and threw a grenade that failed to explode. In the return fire, a gunman was killed, followed by a second one half an hour later, Saban said. It took 38 minutes until the gunbattle subsided and the two terrorists were killed he said.
When the two gunmen were first spotted, soldiers refrained from opening fire, as the terrorists' intentions were unclear and they were located close to Palestinian civilians, said Deputy Battalion Commander Maj. Golan Vach. Only when the gunmen got close to the Israeli side, opened fire and threw a grenade, did soldiers and civilian security guards return fire, he said. Vach also confirmed that the stream of Palestinian laborers using the crossing suddenly stopped minutes before the attack.
Hours later, in a separate incident, two Palestinians were spotted near the security fence south of the crossing said Vach. An IDF tank fired one shell, killing one Palestinian and critically wounding another he said. "The incident began during the night, when a group of Palestinians were spotted near the fence. Their intentions were unclear, and as we were unable to determine if they were placing a bomb or not, soldiers refrained from shooting," Vach said.
On January 6, Israel and Turkey signed an agreement under which Turkey will manage the Erez industrial zone.
Under the agreement, the Turkish Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges (TOBB) will manage Erez, while Turkey will provide substantial investments in building plants in the area. Goods manufactured in the zone should be able to enter the EU, US and Persian Gulf countries duty-free. Turkish companies will also be encouraged to invest in the project. The TOBB is a non-profit organization serving as a link between the business community and the Turkish government.
Since the disengagement from Gaza, 52 terrorists have been killed by the IDF, 26 of whom were killed near the Gaza security fence. Gallant said he believed the Erez crossing would be reopened for business in the coming days.
Since November 2001, one Israeli civilian and 11 members of the security forces have been killed in 16 terror attacks launched at the crossing. The site is considered to be one of the remaining symbols of co-existence between Israel and the Palestinians.
On January 20 the Sheleg Lavan (White Snow) civilian security company took over the task of inspections at the crossing, deploying civilian security guards to work alongside soldiers. The decision to deploy a civilian security firm to maintain overall control of the crossing was to minimize the level of friction during inspections and improve the level of service.
The civilian security guards act in accordance with instructions received from the army and Defense Ministry. The transfer of security control to the companies is to be gradually implemented in order to avoid hitches and delays.