GAZA, (Reuters) – Hamas militants rammed bomb-laden vehicles into a key Israeli border crossing with the Gaza Strip on Saturday, killing at least three of the militants and wounding 13 Israeli soldiers.
The bombing at Kerem Shalom was the third major Palestinian attack in less than two weeks on Israeli border crossings used to transfer limited supplies of humanitarian goods and fuel to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, home to 1.5 million people.
Two other Palestinians, including a Hamas militant and a civilian, were killed in separate Israeli air strikes in the Gaza Strip on Saturday, the Islamist group said.
Israel tightened its economic and military blockade of the coastal enclave after Hamas seized control in June from secular Fatah forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Israeli Gen. Yoav Galant described the attack at Kerem Shalom as the most sophisticated since Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005. Israel, which still controls Gaza’s air space, coastal waters and goods crossings, has accused Iran and Syria of providing Hamas fighters with advanced training and equipment.
An Israeli army spokeswoman said two jeeps exploded in the attack, which was launched under cover of heavy fog. She said troops captured a third armoured vehicle used in the attack.
Hamas’s armed wing, the Izz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigades, said a total of four vehicles packed with explosives attacked Kerem Shalom and that three of them exploded. Militants fired mortar bombs and automatic weapons as a diversion.
Qassam Brigades spokesman Abu Ubaida said the attack marked the start of a campaign by the group to “break the siege”. He said Israel “should be ready for more surprises” that may be “stronger and more painful” than the attack at Kerem Shalom, which lies at the border of Israel, southern Gaza and Egypt.
Mark Regev, spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, said the attack on the crossing showed Hamas’s “nihilistic agenda” and its “total and complete disregard for the welfare of the Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip”.
Hamas said three of its militants were killed in the attack.
The Israeli army spokeswoman said two militants were killed when their vehicles exploded and two others were killed in an exchange of fire with Israeli soldiers.
Of the 13 Israelis wounded, two were reported in moderate condition. The rest were lightly injured, the army said. “The attacker approached the crossing through the heavy early morning mist. The bombing was probably intended as part of a wider attack,” the army spokeswoman said. She said the militants may have been trying to abduct Israeli soldiers. In June 2006, Gaza militants abducted an Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, near the Kerem Shalom crossing. Hamas and other militant groups want to swap Shalit for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.
Israel says Kerem Shalom has been a frequent target of shooting and mortar attacks, and that two militants were wounded on Thursday when they tried to infiltrate the crossing.
Abu Ubaida said Saturday’s attack targeted the army base at Kerem Shalom, rather than the crossing used to transfer goods.
Violence at the Gaza border has increased in recent days.
On Wednesday, 17 Palestinians, most of them civilians, including a Reuters cameraman, and three Israeli soldiers were killed in the bloodiest day in more than a month.
On April 9, militants attacked the border crossing at Nahal Oz, the only terminal for piping fuel to the Gaza Strip.