IDF Opens Roadblock Between Ramallah, Jericho

Israel Defense Forces on Wednesday opened the Rimonim roadblock east of Ramallah, a part of a move to ease restrictions on the Palestinians living in the West Bank. Opening the roadblock will enable Palestinians to travel from Ramallah to Jericho during the Christmas and New Year holidays.

Earlier Wednesday IDF troops ended their operation in the Rafah refugee camp in southern Gaza. Nine Palestinians were killed in the raid to destroy a tunnel used to smuggle weapons across the Egypt-Gaza border.

Meanwhile, a Qassam rocket fell on the town of Sderot in the southern desert overnight Tuesday, close to Israel-Gaza border. The incident occured hours after two people were wounded by a Qassam rocket which hit a residential building at the Nissanit settlement in the Gaza Strip.

The wounded, a married couple, sustained light and moderate injuries and were taken to Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon.

The Qassam that fell in Sderot landed on a road and caused light damage to a parked truck. There were no injuries.

Early Wednesday, an IDF soldier was shot and lightly wounded by Palestinians during the course of an IDF operation in the West Bank city of Tul Karm.

On Tuesday night in the Gaza Strip, Palestinians fired four mortar shells at an Israeli settlement, and in another incident, militants fired at an IDF outpost near the settlement of Gadid. No injuries were reported in either of the attacks, Army Radio reported.

Earlier Tuesday, eight Palestinians were killed in Rafah during an IDF search for weapons-smuggling tunnels, Palestinian sources said.

The sources said that five of the Palestinians killed were armed, and three were civilians, and that 42 people were injured in the raid, among them nine children.

In a separate incident Tuesday, IDF soldiers searching for militants shot and killed a bystander in a village near the West Bank city of Nablus, Palestinians said.

The IDF said soldiers discovered a 13-meter deep tunnel used for smuggling weapons under the border with Egypt. The entrance was inside a house in the refugee camp, the military said.

A military source said the troops faced an unusual amount of resistance in the Rafah camp. In two separate instances, pairs of militants tried to plant explosives and the soldiers shot them, the source said. Another militant was shot after throwing a grenade at the soldiers, the source said.

On three other occasions, troops came under fire and shot their assailants, the source said. No Israelis were injured, the military said.

Another IDF source said the soldiers entered Rafah "as part of a continuous fight" to find and destroy a series of smuggling tunnels through which explosives were brought in from neighboring Egypt.

The army said Tuesday's raid was not in response to the deaths of two officers the day before. The two, Cpt. Haggai Bibi and Lt. Leonardo Weissman, were killed Monday night in a gunbattle with militants in the central Gaza Strip.

Palestinians said about 20 tanks rumbled into a refugee camp in Rafah overnight, drawing fire from militants. More tanks, firing machine-guns, moved in during the day.

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan on Tuesday criticized Israel for its disproportionate use of force during the gunbattles in the Gaza Strip.

"The secretary general reiterates that Israel, as the occupying power, must protect the civilian population and desist from using disproportionate force," Annan said through his spokesman, Fred Eckhard.

"He strongly urges the government of Israel to refrain from violent actions and return to peaceful negotiations with Palestinian partners in the 'quartet' roadmap," Eckhard said referring to the peace plan proposed by the U.N., the European Union, the United States and Russia.