Israeli minister's aide shot near Gaza
Security chief was target, Hamas says
JERUSALEM - An aide to Israel's public security minister was wounded by a Palestinian gunman yesterday as he toured an observation point overlooking the Gaza Strip with a group of Canadian tourists.
Dozens of other people were at the site at the time, Cabinet Minister Avi Dichter said, but no one else was hurt. Dr. Emile Hay, deputy director of Barzilai hospital in Ashkelon, said Dichter's bureau chief, Matti Gil, was in stable condition with gunshot wounds to the lower abdomen and pelvis.
Several militant groups claimed responsibility for the attack, including the military wing of Gaza's ruling Hamas movement, the militant offshoot of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah Party, and two little-known radical Islamic groups inspired by Al Qaeda, the Army of the Nation and Protectors of the Homeland.
Shootings across the border fence are fairly rare. Militant groups in Gaza, however, fire rockets into southern Israel almost every day, often prompting retaliatory air strikes and land incursions. Later yesterday, Israeli troops briefly entered the Gaza Strip to fire at gunmen who approached the fence about 1 mile south of where the minister's entourage came under attack, the army said. Palestinians reported heavy fire in the area.
Such violence has dropped in recent weeks, after a flare up last month that killed 120 Palestinians and three Israelis. The bloodshed casts a shadow over US-backed peace talks between Israel and the moderate Palestinian leadership in the West Bank. Israel has said no peace deal can be implemented as long as Hamas is controlling Gaza.
A video Hamas released after the shooting, taken from the Palestinian side, showed a gunman firing across a field of thistles toward a group of people standing near a tour bus and cars. "This is to confirm the continuation of our holy war and . . . the targeting of every Zionist on our pure land," read a statement on the official Hamas website. Dichter was the target of the shooting, the statement said.
Moshe Ronen, a Toronto resident present during the attack, was touring southern Israel with the board of the Canada-Israel Committee, of which he is the chairman, to learn about life there under rocket fire.
"Within a few seconds of the sound of the shooting we understood we were being fired on," Ronen said. "The secret service of Minister Dichter told us to get down on the ground and both the minister and I were pushed to the ground and had our heads in the sand and didn't move for about 10 minutes."
Israel's army returned fire within a few minutes from a post at the overlook, forcing the Palestinians to stop shooting. The Canadians then ran to a nearby concrete wall where they waited an hour-and-a-half until they were removed. The Canadian group consists of both Jews and Christians from Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, and Halifax, Ronen said.
Gaza militants have bombarded Israeli border communities with rockets since late 2001, killing 13 people, severely disrupting daily life, and provoking Israeli retaliation. With Egyptian mediation, however, there has been a lull in recent weeks.