July 30, 2007 / 9:53 AM / in 11 years

Israel wounds 7 in Gaza; Hundreds return from Egypt

GAZA (Reuters) - Israel launched an air strike against a vehicle in the central Gaza Strip on Monday, wounding seven people, three of them militants, medics said.

Members of the Hamas Executive Force inspect a destroyed car following an Israeli air strike in Gaza July 30, 2007. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

For a second day, Israel allowed Palestinians stranded in Egypt since Hamas’s takeover of Gaza last month to return to the coastal strip traveling via the Jewish state.

An Israeli security source said 313 crossed on Monday, following 101 who did so on Sunday.

Hours after Hamas organized a tour for journalists aimed at showing the Islamists had brought security to Gaza, a senior intelligence official loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was found dead. Medics said his body showed signs of torture.

Tension between Abbas’s secular Fatah faction and Hamas remains high in the enclave of 1.5 million people. But Fatah and Hamas officials in Gaza said they believed the death was not connected to last month’s factional fighting.

Islam Shahwan, a spokesman for Hamas’s Executive Force, said the man had been missing since Sunday and that his body was found in a former Israeli settlement in southern Gaza.

“We condemn these daily crimes. All Palestinians who care about Palestinian nationalism should join us in condemning these crimes... These crimes must come to an end,” said Abdullah Abdullah, a Palestinian lawmaker and senior Fatah official.

Israel’s military said its air strike had been aimed at preventing rockets from being launched at Israel from Gaza. Israel has pressed on with its attacks on militant targets in the coastal strip since Hamas Islamists seized it.

The vehicle struck by the Israeli missile near Mughazi refugee camp exploded on impact, wounding three militants from the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades of President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement and Islamic Jihad, medics and witnesses said.

Four Palestinian bystanders were treated for slight injuries, medics said.

Palestinian women return to Gaza from Egypt through Erez crossing July 30, 2007. REUTERS/Ismail Zaydah

Israeli soldiers killed two al-Aqsa members on Saturday. Israel said they were planting explosives and preparing to launch mortars near the Gaza border fence.

An al-Aqsa spokesman said the thwarted attack had been meant to send a signal that the group objected to the omission of a reference to “armed struggle” in the new platform of Abbas’s government, based in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Abbas lost control of Gaza on June 14 when Hamas routed his secular Fatah forces. He responded by sacking a Hamas-led unity government, naming his own Western-backed administration.

Abbas’s government, headed by Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, said on Friday it had dropped the “armed struggle” phrase, triggering protests from militants based in Gaza.

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In an apparent response to these protests, Fayyad said on Monday that despite the platform’s wording, Palestinians still had a legitimate right to resist Israeli occupation of territories seized in a 1967 war.

“We are certainly an occupied people and resistance is a legitimate right for the Palestinian people as an occupied people,” Fayyad told reporters in Cairo, where he is leading the Palestinian delegation to an Arab League meeting.

Under a deal reached with Egypt and Fayyad’s government, Israel has said thousands of Palestinians stranded in Egypt since the Rafah crossing was closed with Hamas’s takeover of Gaza could now return through Israeli territory.

The Israeli source said more Palestinians, who had traveled to Egypt for medical care or on business and were then stranded when Hamas seized Gaza and the border was closed, would be allowed through on Tuesday.

Hamas has criticized the deal to let the Palestinians return through Israel as a sellout to the Jewish state. It demands the immediate reopening of the Rafah crossing which would give the Islamists some control over who enters Gaza.

Western diplomats say Israel and Abbas are reluctant to relinquish control of the strategic crossing to a militant group, fearing it could be used to bring in gunmen and weapons from Egypt.

Additional reporting by Mohammed Assadi in Ramallah and Aziz El-Kaissouni in Cairo

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