Palestinians shell Gaza settlement, killing one

Friday, September 24th 2004, 6:21 am
By: News On 6

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) _ Palestinian militants fired two mortars at a Jewish settlement in the Gaza Strip on Friday, killing a 24-year Israeli-American woman and enflaming settler anger at Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

The death in the southern Gaza settlement of Neve Dekalim was likely to further mobilize opposition to Sharon's plan to withdraw from Gaza in 2005.

The Islamic militant group Hamas claimed responsibility. The mortar fire came a day after three soldiers guarding a nearby settlement were killed by Palestinian gunmen.

In response to the mortar fire, Israeli tanks opened fire on the nearby Palestinian town of Khan Younis, the army said. Palestinian witnesses said two Palestinians, a 42-year-old man and a 4-year-old boy, were wounded.

The violence came hours before Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar when much of Israel shuts down for fasting and prayer. Israeli security forces have been on high alert since last week, the start of the Jewish Near Year, which ushers in a series of holidays that last until October.

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz on Friday ordered troops to tighten a blanket closure of the West Bank and Gaza which has been in effect since the last week.

Since fighting erupted in 2000, Israel has restricted the entry of Palestinians to varying degrees, imposing closures during holidays or at other times of alert. In 2002, a Palestinian suicide bomber blew up a Passover gathering, killing 29 people.

In Friday's attack, Palestinians fired two mortars, including one that hit a house. Two women were wounded and taken to a hospital in southern Israel for treatment. One died of her wounds, and the second was lightly hurt. The woman who died, Tiferet Tratner, also held U.S. citizenship, said Eran Sternberg, a settler spokesman in Gaza.

A video released by Hamas showed three masked militants setting up and firing a mortar. After the shell was fired, heavy gunfire could be heard.

Palestinians have fired hundreds of crude mortars and rockets at Jewish settlements in Gaza and Israeli border towns since 2000, but Friday's attack marked the first time a resident of a Gaza settlement was killed by a mortar. In June, two Israelis were killed in a rocket attack on the Israel town of Sderot.

Eli Moses, a resident of Neve Dekalim, said Sharon is to blame because he is going ahead with his plan to withdraw Israeli troops and settlers from Gaza.

``We want to emphasize that the prime minister is directly responsible for the death,'' Moses told Israel Radio. ``Whoever fired the mortar is of course responsible, but there's a person above him, and unfortunately that's the prime minister.''

The shelling came a day after Palestinians killed three Israeli soldiers in an attack on the Morag settlement in southern Gaza. After a protracted gunbattle, the three attackers were killed by the army.

The Gaza clashes point to increasing tensions and violence ahead of Israel's planned withdrawal.

``The Palestinians are doing everything they can to scuttle an Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip,'' said David Baker, an official in Sharon's office. ``We will take any measures necessary to defend our citizens.''

Neve Dekalim is one of 21 Gaza settlements, with a total of 8,200 residents, to be dismantled under Sharon's ``unilateral disengagement'' plan.

Sharon has said he believes Israel's presence in Gaza is untenable. He said evacuating the Gaza settlements and four isolated West Bank enclaves is a way of strengthening Israel's hold on parts of the West Bank where most of its 236,000 settlers live.

In Jerusalem, meanwhile, Mayor Uri Lupolianski proposed building a new Jewish neighborhood in the eastern sector, which was captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war and is claimed by the Palestinians as a capital.

Lupolianski sent a letter to the Housing Ministry, suggesting the construction of a Jewish neighborhood on land next to the Arab neighborhood of Wadi Joz, said his spokesman Gidi Schmerling.

``There is no one living there at there moment,'' Schmerling said, adding that Lupolianski was also working on plans to build some 20 new housing projects for Arabs. ``There is no discrimination here,'' he said.

Palestinians fear building more Jewish neighborhoods in east Jerusalem will make an eventual division of the city impossible. Arab residents of the city complain of systematic discrimination, saying that investment in infrastructure in their neighborhoods has lagged far behind that of the Jewish neighborhoods.