GAZA CITY, Gaza City (AP) – A missile fired from an Israeli helicopter killed at least 11 Palestinians today while they watched firefighters put out a fire in the Jabalya refugee camp in Gaza, witnesses and hospital officials said. More than 100 people were wounded.
The Israeli military operation in Gaza came hours after a Palestinian suicide bombing on a bus in the northern city of Haifa killed 15 Israelis and wounded dozens.
The army did not immediately comment on reports of the missile attack.
A gun battle had erupted in Jabalya during an overnight Israeli operation in the refugee camp, witnesses said, and continued as troops pulled out of the area and withdrew into an alley.
The troops fired tank shells and heavy machine guns. A helicopter hovering overhead fired missiles, hitting a group of people who were watching the firefighters at work.
“Until now, we have 11 killed and more than 100 wounded, among them 30 are in very critical condition, in a new massacre committed against the citizens of Jabalya,” said Moawia Hassanen, chief of emergency services at Shifa Hospital in Gaza City.
Earlier, two other Palestinians were killed during the army’s operation in Gaza. The army blew up two buildings, including one belonging to a Hamas activist. A Reuters TV cameraman and photographer were among the wounded.
Israel has stepped up its operations in the Gaza Strip since mid-February, when Hamas claimed responsibility for blowing up a tank and killing its four-man crew. Days later a gunman killed a soldier.
Since then, the army has raided several Gaza Strip towns and cities, including Hamas strongholds, in what it says is a hunt for militants and fugitives. More than 50 Palestinians, including militants and at least eight civilians, have been killed in more than a dozen raids.
After yesterday’s suicide bombing, Israel’s Security Cabinet closed off the West Bank and Gaza Strip until Sunday, banning all Palestinians from entering Israel, as one of the steps in response to the attack, Israeli officials said early today, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Early today, about 50 Israeli tanks accompanied by helicopter gunships moved deep into the Jabaliya refugee camp next to Gaza City. A 60-year-old Palestinian night watchman was killed and three other people wounded in exchanges of fire, hospital officials said.
Israel’s new hard-line government had pledged earlier to step up strikes against militant strongholds in the Gaza area. Dozens of Palestinians have been killed in more than two weeks of raids, including at least 10 civilians. s of explosives.
Bus No. 37 was packed with students from Haifa University when it stopped in the hilltop neighborhood of Carmelia at 2:17 p.m. to let off passengers.
“I suddenly heard an explosion,” said bus driver Marwan Damouni, an Israeli Arab, who was being treated at a hospital. “I didn’t feel anything. I didn’t hear anything. I opened my eyes after a minute and saw blood all over my arms.”