Text size

The Palestinian Authority released a statement Tuesday evening calling on the militant groups and residents of the Gaza Strip who hold remains of the IDF troops to return the parts.

In the statement, released after a meeting of PA officials in Ramallah, the Palestinian leadership called on the groups to treat the bodies "according to Islamic law, and not to hurt Islamic values." The PA condemned the "criminal" IDF operation, but called on the militant groups not to "tarnish the image and values of the Palestinians.

Six Israel Defense Forces soldiers from the Givati Brigade's engineering company were killed in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday morning, when a bomb exploded under the armored personnel carrier (APC) in which they were travelling.

The military wings of Islamic Jihad and Hamas - the Al-Quds Brigades and Iz a Din al-Kassam - claimed responsibility for planting the device, which was reported to weigh dozens of kilograms.

Israel approached the International Red Cross (IRC) to help retrieve the body parts, according to Israeli diplomatic sources. Red Cross spokesman Simon Schorno said the request was accepted, and Red Cross officials are in touch with Palestinian authorities.

The commander of the Al Aqsa Brigades in Gaza told the IRC on Tuesday evening his organization is holding body parts belonging to the dead Israeli soldiers, Army Radio reported.

IDF Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Moshe Ya'alon said Tuesday evening Israel is not participating in any negotiations over the return of the soldiers' remains.

Foreign news agencies reported that the militant groups had filmed the incident, and had targeted several armored vehicles during clashes with IDF troops.

Hamas and Jihad said Tuesday that they had body parts of the six soldiers in their possession. A joint statement by Palestinian militant groups said that demands for their return would be issued.

"We possess the remains of your bodies that were thrown into the streets of Gaza. We have our demands to hand them over to the Zionist occupier," said the statement. It did not list conditions.

Arabic-language satellite TV channel Al Jazeera broadcast a video it said showed two masked Islamic Jihad activists taking responsibility and showing what they said was the head of an Israeli soldier on a table in front of them. Channel 1 TV, rebroadcasting the footage, electronically obscured the head.

GOC Southern Command Major General Dan Harel told reporters Tuesday afternoon that IDF troops will remain in Zeitoun until their comrades' remains are recovered.

"We are checking every roof and every balcony to find the remnants of the APC and the bodies of our soldiers," Harel said during a press conference at Nahal Oz, on the Gaza border.

In the aftermath of the attack, the IDF partitioned the Gaza Strip into three sections, sealed off the Zeitoun neighborhood and sent in massive reinforcements to assist in the operation to recover the soldiers' bodies and the burned-out APC.

The troops were searching for workshops where Qassam rockets used by militants against Jewish settlements in Gaza and towns in southern Israel were being made, Harel said. Some five workshops were destroyed, according to Israel Radio.

It was the deadliest blow to IDF troops in the Palestinian territories since November 2002, when militants killed nine soldiers and three security guards in an ambush in the West Bank city of Hebron.

Car hit in IAF missile strikeOn Tuesday afternoon, an Israel Air Force helicopter gunship fired a missile at a car in Gaza City, killing one person and wounding five others, witnesses said.

The car was hit in the Sajaiyeh district of Gaza City, near the area of intense fighting between IDF troops and Palestinian gunmen.

It was not immediately clear why Israel targeted the car, which was parked outside a bodyshop. The identities of those targeted were not immediately known.

Witnesses said two Palestinian gunmen were walking nearby at the time.

Medics said the dead person was a man of 18 and five other people were wounded, two of them critically, in the air strike.

The Itim news agency reported that the strike appeared to be an attempt to assassinate wanted militants.

Fierce oppositionTroops met with fierce opposition from Palestinian gunmen in the area on Tuesday morning. The troops, backed by tanks and helicopter gunships, raided Gaza City, killing seven Palestinians. Harel said all seven Palestinian casualties were armed militants.

Some 60 Palestinians were wounded in the fighting, including 12 who were in serious condition, Palestinian doctors said. Among the wounded was an 11-year-old boy with a head injury who was placed on life support.

Two Qassam rockets were also fired at a town in the western Negev on Tuesday morning but both failed to explode.

The IDF said that Givati Brigade troops entered Gaza City in an operation aimed at the "terrorist infrastructure" there.

"A force has entered the [Zeitoun neighborhood] and we are carrying out a pinpoint operation against the terrorist infrastructure," an Israeli military source said.

Witnesses said gunmen rushed to the scene of the night-time incursion and that fierce battles erupted in which a 21-year-old Hamas militant was killed and 10 other Palestinians, at least four of them armed, were wounded.

Hours later, a helicopter gunship fired a missile at a group of gunmen near a petrol station, killing one Palestinian and wounding some 13 others, the witnesses said.

"We condemn with the strongest possible terms the Israeli military escalation," said Palestinian Minister Saeb Erekat. "The escalation is only a part of Israel's campaign to continue the path of violence and confrontation."

The operation began when Israeli undercover forces sped into Zeitoun in civilian taxis and jeeps, the witnesses said.

They were later joined by tanks and armored personnel carriers as helicopters fired their machine guns and loud explosions echoed across Gaza City.

Troops surrounded homes belonging to militants from the Hamas and Islamic Jihad groups and blew off the doors to the entrances of several buildings, where they set up rooftop observation posts, witnesses said.

In another part of Gaza, several IDF tanks and bulldozers entered the Rafah refugee camp on the Egyptian border and tore down a structure, residents said.