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Last update - 01:25 16/12/2005

IDF imposes closure on the West Bank, Gaza Strip

By Jonathan Lis, Arnon Regular and Nir Hasson, Haaretz Correspondents, and Haaretz Service

Israel Defense Forces imposed a closure on the Gaza Strip and the West Bank early Friday morning, in response to the recent barrage of Qassam rockets fired from Gaza.

The closure would not affect the Karni crossing, Israel Radio reported.

Palestinians in Gaza fired a Qassam rocket Thursday afternoon that landed just two kilometers south of Ashkelon. Four other Qassams crashed into the western Negev also on Thursday. There were no casualties and no damage was caused in any of the attacks.

Israel Air Force warplanes flew over Gaza late Thursday night, breaking the sound barrier over the Strip. An IDF source said the flights were intended to disrupt the direction of Qassam rockets fired from Gaza.

Islamic Jihad on Thursday evening claimed responsibility for firing the Qassam that hit just south of Ashkelon.

This was not the first time that Qassams have struck in the coastal area between Ashkelon and the northern border of the Gaza Strip.

The IDF on Thursday also artillery units pounded targets in northern Gaza following the Qassam rocket attacks on Israel.

Following the rocket attack, Ashkelon Mayor Roni Mehatzri said, "We must not be dismissive of this situation."

Sources in the Ashkelon municipality recently reported the "Red Dawn" early warning system was installed in the southern coastal city. This is the same system that is operating in Sderot to provide residents with warning of incoming rocket.

Nevertheless, the sources said, the Red Dawn system in Ashkelon is still not operative.

Palestinians in Gaza on Wednesday fired three Qassams and a mortar shell at Israel but only one Qassam made it across the border into Israeli territory. The rocket landed in an open area north of Sderot. Another rocket hit a Palestinian home in the northern Gaza village of Beit Hanun. There were no Palestinian casualties.

3 Palestinians wounded as IAF continues strikes
The IDF continued its offensive on militant targets in the Gaza Strip early Thursday morning, striking the home of a leading Palestinian militant and the office of an Islamic charity. Three Palestinians were wounded in the attacks.

An Israel Air Force aircraft attacked the home of a militant in Beit Lahia village before dawn Thursday. Witnesses said the three-story building targeted belonged to Amar Karmout, a leader of the Popular Resistance Committee (PRC), a coalition of Palestinian militants that specializes in cross-border rocket fire into Israel.

The building was partly gutted by fire, but Karmout was apparently not at home at the time of the attack. Another Palestinian was wounded, medics said. IDF sources said the air strike targeted a PRC weapons store.

In Rafah, an aircraft fired a missile at the office of a charity linked to Islamic Jihad, causing damage but no casualties. Military sources said the office had been used to plan attacks.

Earlier on Thursday, an IAF aircraft fired rockets at open areas of northern Gaza used by Palestinian rocket crews to fire into Israel, military sources said. Palestinian sources said two people were wounded in the attack.

A leader of the Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad survived an IAF strike in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, hours after a similar attack killed four gunmen near the border with Israel, witnesses said.

They said Khader Habib, an Islamic Jihad spokesman, was lightly wounded in the Gaza City strike.

Palestinian sources said a missile was fired on Habib's Mercedes in Gaza City, not far from his house. The same sources said Habib had heard the sound of warplanes circling overhead and managed to get out of his car and flee the area.

Habib, a well-known merchant in his 40s, has spent time in Israeli prisons for his involvement with Islamic Jihad. He is considered a senior leader in the organization.

IDF sources said that the car was on its way to launch Qassam rockets or mortar shells on Israel, and that the strike was not a targeted assassination but rather an attempt to halt an attack.

Habib was taken to a safe house and was in stable condition, Islamic Jihad officials said.

Approximately four hours earlier, four Palestinians were killed when the IAF fired missiles at a car east of Gaza City.

The IDF confirmed it launched an air strike against a car in northern Gaza carrying militants from the Popular Resistance Committees. The IDF said they were on their way to carry out an attack.

An IDF drone was overhead at the time of the attack. Witnesses said the attack took place near of the Karni crossing, Gaza's main cargo passage.

IDF sources said the militants in the car were on their way to carry out an attack at the Karni crossing. The sources also said that one of those killed worked at the crossing and used information he had obtained from his job to plan the intended attack.

The Subaru was filled with explosives and caused an unusually large blast when it was hit by the IAF missiles.

Five passers-by were lightly wounded in the explosion.

The Popular Resistance Committees was behind several deadly attacks against Israelis in Gaza, and some link PRC with an October 2003 attack in which three U.S. Marine guards were killed in the bombing on a U.S. embassy convoy in Gaza
 
 
Jennifer Loewenstein