- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 20, 2008

KEREM SHALOM, Israel (AP) — Hamas suicide bombers detonated two booby-trapped jeeps at an Israeli border crossing yesterday in what a top army commander said was Hamas‘ most ambitious attempt to target Israelis since Israel’s pullout from the Gaza Strip in 2005.

Thirteen soldiers were wounded and four Hamas assailants were killed in the attack on the Kerem Shalom crossing, just hours before the start of the Jewish Passover holiday, said the commander, Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant.

Hamas also dispatched an armored vehicle to another crossing, but that vehicle was struck by an Israeli tank shell.

Hamas said it would carry out more attacks to break the blockade of Gaza, imposed after Hamas‘ violent takeover of the territory nearly a year ago. The bombing yesterday at Kerem Shalom was the fifth attack on Israelis at Gaza passages in two weeks.

The attack on Kerem Shalom started at about 6 a.m., Gen. Galant said. Hamas militants drove an armored personnel carrier and two jeeps — made to look like Israeli army vehicles — toward the crossing under the cover of morning fog and heavy Hamas mortar fire toward the border area.

The armored personnel carrier broke through the perimeter fence, enabling the two jeeps to enter the crossing. One jeep was detonated near an army watchtower and the second near a patrol, security officials said. Thirteen soldiers were wounded in the second blast, including eight who were hospitalized.

Gen. Galant said Hamas apparently tried to cause a large number of casualties and to kidnap soldiers.

“This is an attack the likes of which we have not seen since disengagement,” Gen. Galant said, referring to Israel’s pullout from Gaza in September 2005. “It was orchestrated along the border.”

Later yesterday, an Israeli aircraft fired a missile at a car near Kerem Shalom, killing a mechanic for the Hamas police and wounding four people, Palestinian security officials and medics said.

Hamas said three of its gunmen were killed yesterday, but it released a farewell video of four attackers. One of the faces was blocked out, suggesting he is still at large.

In Gaza City, a Hamas leader, Sami Abu Zuhri, said Hamas would carry out more attacks on crossings to break the nearly yearlong blockade of the territory. Israel and Egypt have virtually sealed Gaza since the Hamas takeover, allowing only basic supplies in. Kerem Shalom was one of those supply routes.

Despite the attacks, Hamas said it’s ready to reach a truce with Israel on the Gaza border, and Egypt has tried to broker such a deal. Former President Jimmy Carter, defying U.S. and Israeli warnings, has been meeting with Hamas leaders in recent days in the West Bank and Syria.

In the Syrian capital Damascus, Mr. Carter met again yesterday with the exiled Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal and his deputy, Moussa Abu Marzouk. The hourlong meeting in the morning followed a meeting the night before that lasted more than four hours. Mr. Carter is trying to secure the release of captured Israeli soldier Cpl. Gilad Shalit.