Four Militants Killed Near Gaza Coast by Israeli Navy
By ISABEL KERSHNER
Copyright by The Associated Press
Published: June 7, 2010
JERUSALEM — At least four Palestinian militants suspected by Israel of planning an attack by sea were killed near the Gaza coast early on Monday. The Israeli military said that an Israeli naval force spotted what it called a “squad of terrorists wearing diving suits” and fired on them, killing some of the suspects.
Palestinian medics said that four bodies had been retrieved, according to initial news reports from Gaza, and that one or two others may still be missing.
The Gaza branch of the Aksa Martyrs Brigades, a militant group nominally associated with the mainstream Fatah movement led by President Mahmoud Abbas, said the four were among its members. The group said they belonged to its marine unit and that they were training at the time they were hit.
The deaths came amid heightened tensions after Israel’s deadly naval commando raid on a Turkish ship bound for Gaza last week. Israel has enforced a strict naval blockade of Gaza, saying it is essential to stop weapons smuggling by Hamas, the Islamic militant group that controls the territory.
There are frequent clashes along the Israel-Gaza border, where militants from various groups try to lay bombs and fire rockets into southern Israel. Israel has also accused Hamas of building a series of tunnels close to the border, designed to facilitate infiltrations. But infiltration attempts by sea have been rarer.
The Israeli military said the militants in diving gear killed on Monday were “on their way to execute a terror attack,” but it did not offer details.
The killings last week aboard the Turkish ship, Mavi Marmara, spread concern far beyond the region, prompting calls for an international inquiry.
On Sunday, the French foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, went further, suggesting a European Union role in checking cargo on board ships heading to Gaza in return for the lifting of the blockade.
Mr. Kouchner was speaking after a meeting in Paris with his British counterpart, William Hague.
“We can check the cargo of ships heading toward Gaza — we can do it, we want to do it, we would gladly do it,” Mr. Kouchner said, according to news reports. There was no immediate response from Israel or from the Hamas authorities in Gaza.
France has been seeking a more prominent role in Middle East diplomacy. President Nicolas Sarkozy called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to seek his agreement on an international role in an investigation into the killings aboard the Turkish vessel.
There has been no formal response from Jerusalem so far.
Alan Cowell contributed reporting from Paris.