oPt + 1 more

Israeli force move into Gaza near crossing

By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA, June 19 (Reuters) - Israel evacuated half a dozen wounded Palestinians from the Gaza Strip on Tuesday but left behind dozens more struggling to escape since Hamas Islamists seized control of the coastal territory.

An Israeli military spokesman said ambulances had taken half a dozen for treatment in Israeli hospitals, including several wounded, possibly by crossfire, in a shootout between Israeli soldiers and Hamas gunmen at a border terminal on Monday.

Others of those evacuated were wounded in the deadly Gaza clashes between Hamas and loyalists of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction, the Israeli spokesman said.

Details of the rescue were clouded in secrecy, as Israel cited concerns that 150 Palestinians trapped at the crossing for days would try to flee to the Jewish state.

Israel had permitted dozens to flee from Gaza to the occupied West Bank, then largely halted the flow, leaving dozens behind, including women and children, citing security concerns about some of those seeking refuge.

But an Israeli television station said the deputy defence minister, Efraim Sneh, had secretly visited the crossing and escorted out 10 Fatah men Israel feared would be captured by Hamas militants.

Israel also permitted the first international aid trucks to cross into Gaza since the deadly fighting of last week. Palestinian officials said they had received more than eight truckloads of rice, food and animal feed.

These operations took place as Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert jointly pledged at a White House meeting to bolster Abbas and declared a "common strategy" against extremists in Gaza.

An aide to Olmert quoted him on Monday as saying Israel would not intervene or move forces but would "take into consideration all humanitarian needs in Gaza".

Dozens of the Palestinians at Erez were seen sitting and lying down on the dusty ground, some barefoot or in casts. Children sat behind luggage or in the arms of their mothers.

"This is the fifth day for us in the crossing," said Um Mohammed. "We will not be able to come back to Gaza. Internal fighting chased us to Erez after we fled from Gaza. We fled Gaza because we are not safe -- everybody is threatened." (Additional reporting by Avida Landau in Jerusalem)


Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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