Policy at Gaza Crossings Won't Change Following Terror Attack

Vilnai: We'll prevent a disaster in Gaza; site of attack was unguarded despite proximity to Strip.

Israel does not intend to change its policy at Gaza Strip border crossings following Wednesday's terror attack at the fuel depot at Nahal Oz, in which two Israeli civilians were killed, according to senior security sources.

The activity at the fuel terminal was halted after the attack, but the sources said Israel had not decided to stop fuel shipments to Gaza completely and would probably resume the supply in a few days. "We have an obligation to prevent a humanitarian disaster in Gaza," Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai told Army Radio on Thursday.

Abu Ahmed of Islamic Jihad said the attack, carried out by four Palestinian militants who infiltrated Israel from Gaza, was intended to target the fuel depot on which Gazans depend.

"This fuel [from Israel] is dipped in humiliation," he said, "because people wait for it for hours. If their fuel means humiliation for us, we don't want it."

Security officials said they believe there is enough fuel in Gaza to meet humanitarian needs, and that Palestinians will continue to receive shipments through the Sufa and Kerem Shalom crossings.

Israel sealed its borders with Gaza after the Islamic militant group seized control of the territory last June, and has reduced the flow of fuel, electricity and basic goods. The sanctions have hit the area hard, and on Tuesday, Hamas threatened to blow up Gaza's borders with Israel and Egypt to relieve the strain.

On an Israeli response to the attack, security sources said that the IDF's offensive in the Strip may escalate slightly but so far no decision on a larger ground operation has been made. "We will chose the time and the place to respond," Vilnai said.

The fuel depot at Nahal Oz, near the Karni crossing did not have guards, despite its proximity to the Gaza border and the presence there of civilians.

The IDF only had troops along the border fence, who failed to prevent the terrorists' infiltration. IDF sources said that Dor Alon, the company that operates the terminal, probably did not post guards at the site to save money, even though the IDF had demanded it.

The sources said other companies operating border crossings to the Gaza Strip all employed security guards. In response, Dor Alon said it had never been asked to post guards at the depot and that the IDF is responsible for the crossing.

The victims were identified as Be'er Sheva residents Oleg Lipson, 37, and Lev Cherniak, 53. Two other civilians were injured in the attack.

Two of the four Palestinian terrorists were killed in an exchange of fire with IDF troops immediately after the attack.

Several hours later, an Israel Air Force missile strike hit a car in the Sajaia neighborhood in Gaza, in which one of the terrorists who carried out the shooting attack was traveling, IDF sources said.

According to the sources, the terrorist and another man who was with him in the vehicle were killed in the strike.

Earlier, during the IDF forces' attempt to target the terrorists who carried out the attack and fled the scene, the IAF fired one missile at a Palestinian car in Gaza City's Zeitun neighborhood and another at a house in the area.

Four Palestinians, three of them civilians, were killed as a result of IDF missile fire. They were identified as A'ataf al-Arbali, a member of the "Mujahideen Brigade," his brother Ahmed al-Arbali, Mazen Abu Kamiz and Muhammed Abu Jabeh.

Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the attack, along with a group linked to the Al-Aqsa Brigades. A spokesman for the Popular Resistance Committees said that members of three groups, not including Hamas, infiltrated the crossing.

Local security officer: Palestinians warned of infiltration

Palestinian fuel coordinators alerted Israelis operating the Nahal Oz fueling terminal that Palestinian terrorists had infiltrated Israel prior to the terror attack that left two Israeli civilians dead, Sha'ar Hanegev Regional Council chief security officer Yoav Peled said Wednesday.

"It is in the Palestinians' interest that fuel continue to be transferred [from Israel] into the Gaza Strip, so they gave the Israeli side, the guys that worked there, information about the infiltration, and warned them," Peled said.

Maj. Tal Levram, an IDF spokesman, said the militants fired a series of mortar shells before the infiltration to divert Israel's attention. The mortar attacks continued afterward, and one landed by Levram as he described the attack.

According to Peled, the drivers of the fuel trucks that were at the terminal during the time of the attack managed to flee unharmed, but two Israeli employees were murdered while attempting to escape. The two were shot at very close range while one of them was in a truck and the other was standing just outside the vehicle.

Eye witnesses said that the four terrorists who infiltrated the terminal from the Gaza Strip had shot the two victims again, to confirm the kill, and riddled their dead bodies with bullets.

An eye witness who arrived at the scene minutes after the shooting said that the bodies of the two victims were mutilated and perforated by the shooters.

"The terrorists threw a hand grenade and sprayed them," the witness said. "It was a difficult sight to look at the two bodies. The terrorists came pretty close to them and shot them at close range."

The security officer of the Sdot Negev Regional Council, Rafi Babian, who arrived at the scene minutes after the infiltration, said "it is a clear Palestinian interest to receive fuel; they say they want to operate their hospital. Now I believe that the transfer of fuel will cease over the next few days."

The fuel transfer terminal is operated by the Israeli gasoline company Dor Alon. It operates in such a way that fuel trucks arrive on the Israeli side and unload their cargo into an underground pipeline that transfers the fuel into Palestinian territory.

The Israel Defense Forces estimate that the infiltration and subsequent terror attack had been planned for a long time and that its express objective was to kidnap an IDF soldier or an Israeli civilian to be used as a bargaining chip in later negotiations. The IDF base their estimation on the fact that a getaway

Earlier Wednesday, GOC Southern Command Yoav Galant said that the objective of the terror attack was to kidnap IDF troops.

Galant's comments came after a spokesman for the Popular Resistance Committees declared that the abduction of a soldier was the shooting attack's primary purpose.

"It seems that terrorists intended to carry out a more severe attack, with the characteristics of an infiltration into a community or a kidnapping," Galant said.

The IDF said that the fact that a getaway car was waiting for the terrorists on the Palestinian side was indicative of the gunmen's aim to abduct soldiers or civilians and drive them into Palestinian territory.

Earlier Wednesday, a PRC spokesman Abu Mujahed said that, "the goal of the attack was to kidnap Israeli soldiers and break the siege on the Gaza Strip." Abu Mujahed was speaking in an interview with Al-Jazeera.

Abducted Israel Defense forces soldier Gilad Shalit was kidnapped in a similar cross-border raid in June 2006.

Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman, praised the attack as heroic and courageous. He said Hamas was not responsible but affirmed his group's support for "resistance."