Israel seizes Hamas leader; Palestinian teenager killed
Egypt revives truce efforts
GAZA CITY - Israeli forces entered a northern Gaza town yesterday and seized a local Hamas leader from his home amid heavy fighting with Palestinian gunmen, Hamas militants and a Palestinian official said. The wanted man's 14-year-old daughter was killed in the clashes.
The fighting erupted in the town of Beit Lahiya, near the border with Israel. The army confirmed the raid, saying its forces exchanged fire with Palestinian militants.
Despite the renewed violence, Egypt is making another attempt to broker a truce between Hamas and Israel. The deal would also include a prisoner swap and the opening of Gaza border crossings; the territory has been virtually sealed by Israel and Egypt since Hamas's violent takeover in June.
Israel is to respond in coming days to Hamas's latest proposal, which includes a six-month truce. Hamas's Gaza strongman, Mahmoud Zahar, said that if Israel rejects the deal, "all options are open." He issued the implied threat of more violence in a televised statement Friday, after he returned from talks with Egyptian officials in Cairo.
Israel is skeptical about the offer. Yesterday, a former deputy defense minister, Ephraim Sneh, said the government should not accept a truce with Hamas.
He said anything that prolongs Hamas rule in Gaza, including a cease-fire, runs counter to Israel's interest. "There is a zero-sum game between us and Hamas," Sneh told Israel Radio, adding that he believes Israel will eventually have to try to oust the Islamic militants by force.
Sneh is a legislator from Israel's Labor Party, which is headed by Defense Minister Ehud Barak. The military has said it would continue pursuing Hamas militants as long as they threaten Israeli civilians. Hamas and other militant groups have fired hundreds of rockets at Israeli border towns in recent years.
The apparent target of the Israeli raid in northern Gaza yesterday was Talat Hassan Marouf, a local Hamas leader. The fighting took place around his house, and Israeli forces withdrew after detaining him, said Abu Obeida, a spokesman for the Hamas military wing.
The military said Israeli troops came under fire from inside the house, where Marouf's family was at the time.
His 14-year old daughter, Mariam, was killed by shrapnel from heavy machine guns, said Dr. Moawiya Hassanain, a Palestinian Health Ministry official. Her mother was injured in the clashes.
Nine other Palestinians, including seven gunmen, were also wounded in the fighting, Hassanain said. Three of the gunmen were in critical condition, he said.
An army official said the family asked to be removed and was eventually permitted to do so by Israeli troops. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with army regulations, could not say if this was before or after the daughter was killed.
The wanted Hamas member then turned himself in, the army official said.
Hamas spokesman Abdel Latif al-Qanou said, however, that the army prevented medics from arriving at the house to evacuate the injured daughter and wife, leading to the teen's death. He said troops attacked Marouf's house with shells and missiles.
The fighting began before dawn when an Israeli undercover force entered an area of northern Gaza. Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants fired at the force, using machine guns, mortars, and homemade bombs, Hamas militants said.
A dozen of Israeli tanks and aircraft provided cover during the clashes, the army said.
In Damascus yesterday, Turkey's prime minister was trying to restart peace negotiations between Syria and Israel.
Details of the discussions between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Bashar Assad of Syria were not immediately available. But before leaving for Damascus, Erdogan said he hoped to start low-level peace talks between the two sides.
"If this yields positive results, efforts will begin to bring the leaders together," he told the Turkish state-run Anatolia news agency.
Erdogan did not mention Syrian assertions that he recently delivered a message from Israel that it was willing to give up the Golan Heights in return for a peace treaty. Assad has said that Erdogan passed on the message that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is ready to return the disputed area and that he was looking to discuss details with Erdogan.