Seven Palestinians were killed yesterday, including six members of the same family, when an Israel Defense Forces tank shell hit an agricultural area in the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Lahia.
Eight others were reportedly wounded in the incident, two of them seriously.
Meanwhile, the IDF declared an alert last night following unconfirmed reports that a terror organization had abducted an IDF officer and soldier. An anonymous telephone call to the Voice of Palestine said the kidnappers were going to send photographs of the abducted men but none arrived.
Palestinian journalists said the two were reportedly abducted close to Ma'aleh Adumim and were probably taken to Ramallah. Despite the IDF's failure to substantiate the reports, it imposed a closure on Ramallah and combed the area and city.
The Israeli fire in the Gaza Strip apparently came in response to Palestinian mortar attacks on the Erez industrial zone between Israel and Gaza. Two Israeli civilians were lightly wounded.
The six members of the Raban family killed in the incident included three brothers - Hanni, 16, Mahmoud, 14, and Bisaam, 13. Also killed were three of their cousins - Mohammed, 22, Jabir, 12, and Rajikh, 10 - as well as their neighbor, Jabril al-Casiah, 20.
The IDF confirmed that troops fired a tank shell at the Palestinians, saying the target was a rocket-launching terror cell that had been seen near Nissanit. An initial investigation indicated that most of the Palestinians killed were members of the military wing of Hamas, the army said.
The Palestinians said all of those killed were farmers working in their greenhouses and that the members of the rocket-launching cell had escaped uninjured.
A Palestinian farmer who gave only his first name, Suleiman, said militants had been firing mortar shells from among strawberry patches and potato fields when IDF troops returned fire.
Senior military sources said the identification of those killed as young Hamas activists was backed up by information from Palestinian security sources. However, the Palestinians did not make the information public.
Palestinians fired four mortar shells at the settlement of Nissanit from Beit Lahia, one of which landed near a school bus. Two passengers were lightly injured and a number of children were treated for shock.
Meanwhile, two powerful explosions went off near Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas' motorcade, while he was en route to visit the survivors of the tank fire. He was unharmed but called off his hospital visit.
Palestinian security officials said Palestinian militants had fired two homemade rockets from near the hospital toward Israeli targets. Israel Radio said Abbas' bodyguards called off the visit, fearing an Israeli reprisal.
In another incident in the northern Gaza Strip yesterday, two Palestinians were killed in a failed attempt to fire a Qassam rocket from Beit Lahia. Later, two more Palestinians were killed in another failed rocket launch.
Soldiers and the Shin Bet security service yesterday arrested a Jihad operative on the wanted list. Bilal Yassin, who had escaped two years ago from military prison near Ramallah, was arrested hiding in a false side of a bed in his home in the village of Anin, near Jenin.
Soldiers operating in Nablus yesterday discovered a 15-kilogram explosive charge.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now