Israeli Army Prevents Huge Double Blast In Gaza

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:12 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Israeli troops discovered two huge bombs planted near a Jewish community in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday as Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon prepared to meet with administration officials in Washington.

Israel's Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said Israel might extend its withdrawal of troops to Hebron by the end of the week if conditions on the ground permitted.

But Palestinians accused Israeli troops of killing two Palestinians and arresting a third overnight in a West Bank village near Jenin. The Israeli army said it had no knowledge of the incident.

At a cabinet meeting earlier this week, Ben-Eliezer said that opening up areas presents Israel with a dilemma because terrorists take advantage of the easing of the closures by carrying out terror attacks.

Nevertheless, he said on Tuesday that troops might pull out of Hebron by the weekend.

"Right now we are in the midst of talks... on widening the area [of withdrawal] from 'Bethlehem First' to 'All of Judea First,'" Ben-Eliezer said in an interview with Army Radio from Paris.

"We are in intensive talks on this issue and I hope that by the end of the week this will happen if the conditions in the field will allow it," he said.

Earlier, Israel and the PA entered into the Bethlehem-Gaza First understanding, whereby Israel said it would withdraw its troops from PA areas in which it had taken up positions, if quiet was maintained.

Troops pulled out of Bethlehem, which has been relatively calm, but Israeli forces have continued to mount military operations in Gaza to destroy what Israel calls the "terrorist infrastructure."

Israeli troops prevented what could have been a major explosion next to the settlement of Netzarim in the northern Gaza Strip on Tuesday.

Troops discovered two 80-kilogram each bombs (176 pounds), hidden and connected to each other near the community, an army spokesperson said. Two bombs of 40 kilos each (88 pounds) were discovered in the same place on Monday, she added.

In northern Israel, four people were lightly wounded from flying glass in what was initially suspected of being a terrorist shooting attack on a public inter-city bus, police spokesman Gil Kleiman said.

While there have been hundreds of shooting attacks on Israeli vehicles, most of them have occurred in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, not Israel proper.

Later, it was still unclear if an attack had taken place, or if the bus window had been shattered by some kind of flying debris.

The incidents came the day after Sharon left for Washington for a meeting with the president, other administration officials and congressional leaders. He is due to meet with National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice over dinner on Tuesday.

Bush is expected to press Sharon to lighten up on the Palestinians as well as exercise restraint in the event that Israel is attacked by Iraq as a result of a U.S. strike in the Gulf.

In the past, Sharon's trips have been interrupted by terror attacks back home. He cut short this trip - his seventh since taking office - due to the security situation here.

Israeli troops uncovered an explosives laboratory in Jenin and found explosives belts like those warn by suicide bombers there and arrested a suicide bomber in a refugee camp near Nablus two nights ago.

Over the weekend, an alert security guard foiled a suicide bombing in a restaurant in Tel Aviv. As he was chasing the bomber, three guards from the U.S. Embassy who together managed to wrestle the bomber to the ground joined him. His bomb was defused and he was arrested.