Six Soldiers Dead as Gaza Battle Continues

Six Israeli soldiers were killed when their personnel carrier drove over a 100-kilo explosive in Gaza. House-to-house searches continue as 'Security Cabinet' refuses to negotiate for return of body parts snatched by terrorists.

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, | updated: 09:41

Six Israeli soldiers are dead after their armored personnel carrier drove over a 100-kilogram explosive planted under the road in Gaza. Hamas terrorists gleefully displayed and played with the body parts in front of cameras.

A large IDF force continues to operate in the Zeitoun neighborhood of Gaza at this time, carrying out house-to-house searches in the hope of recovering the remains of the six soldiers. Terrorists took body parts from the scene of the blast before IDF troops could secure the area and have claimed that they intend to use them as a bargaining chip.

In his statement made following his speedy return home from Europe, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Moshe Ya’alon declared there would be absolutely no negotiations with terrorists for the return of the remains of six soldiers killed in this morning’s Gaza bomb attack. Israel has contacted the Red Cross to intervene in securing the return of the bodies so they may be interred in Israel

The names of five of the six soldiers killed in this morning’s bomb attack in Gaza are currently cleared for publication. They are: Sergeant Ofir Gerbi, 20, from Moshav Ben-Zachai [near Yavne], Sergeant Edron Amar, from Eilat, Sergeant Eitan Newman, from the Ramot neighborhood of Jerusalem, Sergeant Aviad Deri, 19, from Maale Adumim, and Kobi Mizrahi, 19, from Moshav Mata near Beit Shemesh. The name of the sixth soldier, a ‘chayal boded’ – lone soldier whose family lives in the Diaspora – has not yet been released.

This morning's attack that killed the six soldiers occurred towards the conclusion of a heavy battle waged in spurts in the Zeitun neighborhood of Gaza City. IDF forces entered the city on a mission to locate and blow up explosives labs, destroying at least two of them; several others of the 20 suspected labs were also located. The forces include combat helicopters, jeeps, bulldozers, and tanks, and additional forces were later brought in.

The identification process took a long while, as the bodies were in very bad condition, and not all the body parts were found. The destroyed vehicle, which had a capacity of 12 soldiers but was carrying only six, was carrying large amounts of explosives.

Two news agencies transmitted video from the scene showing Gaza Arabs dancing in the streets with pieces of the destroyed IDF vehicle and the dead soldiers' body parts. The Arab TV channel Al-Jazeera broadcast a video it showing two masked Islamic Jihad terrorists taking responsibility for the attack and displaying what they said was the head of an Israeli soldier on a table in front of them. Israel’s Channel 1 TV broadcasted the Al-Jazeera footage while blurring the image of the head.

GOC Southern Command Major General Dan Harel announced that the IDF would remain in the city until the remains were fully recovered. "We are checking every roof and every balcony to locate the remains of the APC and the bodies of our soldiers," Harel said.

In response, an Israel Air Force missile bombed a target in Gaza this afternoon, killing one and wounding three.

Hamas has claimed responsibility for the murderous attack. IDF soldiers encircled the homes of terrorists during today's battle, and killed 3-5 Arabs - two Hamas terrorists and a Fatah terrorist leader. One IDF soldier was wounded lightly in an earlier clash of the battle, following which Israeli forces returned fire.

The IDF, responding to promptly raised questions as to the wisdom of ground operations of this nature, said that it chose not to attack from the air in order not to endanger the civilian Arab population on the ground. Similar operations to find and destroy weapons-producing factories have proved very successful.

This is not the first time, however, that heavy explosives have hit IDF vehicles, causing heavy casualties. Similar attacks claimed three soldiers in February 2002, three more the next month, one in September of that year, and four tank crew members in February 2003.

The Jewish town of Netzarim, a few kilometers to the south, is closed off. The army is not allowing any entry or exit from the town, and the residents are left to hear the sounds of the battle.

Reactions:
* Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, responding to the attack from a ceremony at the Knesset commemorating 59 years since the end of World War Two, described our enemy as “cruel and inhumane”, adding that we must continue striking out until it is defeated.

* Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said that Israel must fight its war against terrorism "with no connection" to the diplomatic issues, while at the same time finding ways to keep its soldiers safe. He said that the murderous attack today was not at all related to the disengagement plan.

* MK Aryeh Eldad (National Union) called upon the Prime Minister to order the Air Force to bombard the terrorist infrastructures in Gaza, and "not to endanger IDF soldiers for no reason."

* MK Yossi Sarid (Meretz) said that today's victims were in vain.

* MK Ehud Yatom (Likud) called for another Operation Defensive Shield, this time in Gaza.