Palestinians Step Up Attacks From Gaza Strip

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:15 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Palestinian terrorists fired four Kassam rockets from the Gaza Strip into Israel on Wednesday morning, and two of the homemade rockets slammed into an army base, wounding 12 soldiers.

Palestinian militants have stepped up their attacks against Israeli targets during the run-up to Palestinian elections on January 9, despite calls from leading candidate PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to stop the violence. More than 50 mortar shells have been fired at Israeli targets in the Gaza Strip during the last week.

At mid-morning on Wednesday, a Kassam rocket slammed into the room of the battalion commander's deputy at the army base. He was not in the room at the time. A second rocket hit the dinning hall where lunch was being prepared. Earlier, two rockets hit two other Israeli civilian areas.

Overnight, an armed terrorist blasted his way into the Erez crossing point between the northern Gaza Strip and Israel. This is the same crossing point that hundreds of Palestinians were planning to use to leave Gaza to participate in the Haj pilgrimage to Mecca.

The terrorist hurled grenades and opened fire on the Israeli army post there. Israeli soldiers returned fire, killing the terrorist, the army said.

Three Palestinian policemen were wounded in the exchanges of fire and were taken for medical treatment on the Israeli side of the crossing, the army said.

The army closed the terminal, forcing a delay in the Muslims' Haj pilgrimage to Mecca.

The Palestinians are leaving Gaza by way of the Erez crossing in the northern Gaza Strip because the Rafah crossing along the Egyptian border was destroyed by Palestinian terrorists in December.

Terrorist organizations carry out terrorist attacks at important civilian sites such as Erez -- sites that contribute much to the welfare of the Palestinian population -- in order to sabotage any co-existence between Israelis and Palestinians, security sources said.

By striking at the Palestinians' ability to earn a living, the terrorist organizations attempt to present Israel as responsible for the suffering of the Palestinians, the sources said.

The Erez crossing is used by thousands of Palestinians daily to cross into Israel for work. Until the beginning of last year, several thousand Palestinians had gainful employment at the nearby Erez Industrial Zone -- a joint Israeli-Palestinian venture.

The industrial zone will be evacuated as part of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan.

Over the weekend, an Israeli civilian was seriously wounded in a mortar attack on the industrial zone and another civilian was lightly wounded on Tuesday in a separate mortar attack.

The crossing and industrial zone have been targeted in a number of other terror attacks during the last two years, including suicide bombings and attempted suicide attacks. Before Wednesday's attack, one Israeli civilian and eleven security forces personnel had been killed and ten Israelis injured in attacks there.

Following mortar fire on the industrial zone on Tuesday, an Israeli tank fired into a group of men who were getting ready to fire another mortar shell from a strawberry field, killing seven Palestinians.

A spokesman for U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said that he was "gravely concerned" over the killing of the Palestinians. He noted that there was a "marked increase in recent days" of rocket attacks by Palestinian terrorists but expressed no concern over it.

Annan renewed his call "on both parties to follow their obligations under international law and in particular to ensure the protection of the civilian population" as well as urging "maximum restraint" in the run-up to Palestinian presidential elections.

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