Militants thwarted in bid for hostage

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Palestinian gunmen broke through Israel’s heavily fortified Gaza border and battled troops inside Israel for about two hours yesterday in a failed attempt to abduct an Israeli soldier. One of the raiders was killed.

It was the first cross-border incursion since militants killed two Israeli soldiers and abducted a third a year ago.

The Israeli military said troops killed one of the raiders. Palestinians said three other militants escaped back to Gaza unharmed.

The Islamic Jihad said it carried out the attack, near the Kissufim crossing between Gaza and Israel, along with the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a violent offshoot of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud AbbasFatah movement.

“The aim of the operation was to withdraw with the soldier in captivity,” said Abu Ahmed, a spokesman for Islamic Jihad. “But the participation of Israeli helicopters prevented that.”

Israeli Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant said the quick reaction of the soldiers “prevented an attack, apparently a kidnap.”

On June 25, Palestinian militants killed two Israeli soldiers and snatched one near the Kerem Shalom frontier post, about 15 miles south of the site of yesterday’s shootout. The abducted soldier, Cpl. Gilad Shalit, is still missing.

A five-month truce between Gaza militants and Israel collapsed in May when a string of Palestinian rocket attacks into southern Israel triggered Israeli air strikes in response.

Mr. Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had been scheduled to meet in the West Bank this week to discuss the latest round of violence, but the Palestinians called it off, accusing Israel of rejecting all their proposals in preparatory talks.

Israel will only talk to Mr. Abbas, shunning the Palestinian government headed by Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas, the Islamist group behind the deaths of scores of Israelis in suicide bomb attacks and which is pledged to Palestinian rule over all of historical Palestine, including present-day Israel.

Hamas has shrugged off international demands that it renounce violence and recognize Israel’s right to exist, but a senior official yesterday took what appeared to be a softer line, saying only that Palestinians seek a state in the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem.

Hamas was founded on a pledge to seek Israel’s destruction, but some in the movement have moderated their stance as part of the coalition with the more pragmatic Fatah. The Hamas-Fatah government’s platform calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, the lands Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East War.

“Now there is one team, one program, one united government,” Moussa Abu Marzouk, a deputy to Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, said in an interview published yesterday in the Hamas-linked “Palestine” newspaper. “So there is a big chance to reach the goal we agreed upon at this stage, which is a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem,” he said.

Despite Abu Marzouk’s message of Palestinian unity, there was a fresh outbreak of fighting last night between Hamas and Fatah loyalists in the southern Gaza town of Rafah, wounding eight persons, Palestinian security officials said.

This week marks the 40th anniversary of the 1967 war, and Palestinians and foreign activists held a rally at Israel’s West Bank separation barrier north of Jerusalem yesterday to protest four decades of Israeli control.

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