Gaza access could take hit
Suicide bombing by Palestinian militants at issue
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip - A powerful truck bombing staged by Palestinian militants at the main pedestrian crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip yesterday could deal a serious blow to Gazans' hopes of opening up their sealed-off territory.
The attack caused extensive damage and shook buildings for miles. Although the bomber killed only himself, the magnitude of the explosion raised fears that Palestinians are adopting tactics used by Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, and other extremist groups.
The attack at the Erez crossing also reinforced skepticism about Egyptian-led efforts to bring a truce to the violence-wracked area and hurt international efforts to ease the Israeli-led blockade of Gaza, imposed after Hamas militants seized control of the coastal territory almost a year ago.
Later, at the Karni cargo crossing some 5 miles away, a protest against the blockade turned violent, with Palestinians accusing Israeli troops of firing into the crowd of thousands, killing a 22-year-old man and wounding 16 other people.
In chaotic scenes, swarms of people darted along a narrow road near the crossing, fleeing tear gas and live bullets as Israeli tanks rumbled into Gaza from Israel. The military said soldiers opened fire after spotting armed men in the crowd, including one carrying an antitank missile, and that the gunmen returned fire.
"Zionists, death is coming," loudspeakers blared. "You will fall, your corrupt state will fall," the crowd chanted - reflecting the intensity of Gazans' bottled up frustration a year into Hamas's turbulent rule, a period in which 80 percent of Gaza's adult population has descended into poverty, according to the United Nations.
Two little boys ran into a field flanked by tanks while adults in the crowd loudly admonished them to come back. Protesters climbed electricity poles to hoist the Hamas flag. Ambulances rushed in to evacuate the wounded, and plumes of black smoke climbed into the sky after protesters set tires afire.
The violence at Gaza's border crossings came as Egyptian mediation efforts to forge an Israeli-Hamas cease-fire ran into trouble, with several Hamas leaders saying the truce talks had failed. The leaders, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the group had not made an official statement, blamed the breakdown on Israel's failure to accept a six-month truce.
However, Israeli military officials confirmed that Amos Gilad, a senior Israeli defense official, will travel to Egypt on Sunday for more talks.