GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – An Israeli helicopter launched an airstrike along the
Gaza Strip’s border with Israel early Saturday, officials said, killing a Palestinian militant and wounding two others and further straining a fragile cease-fire.
In the West Bank, meanwhile, Israeli troops clashed with Palestinian gunmen, wounding one of the area’s most wanted and best-known militants. Zakariye Zubeydi, a leader of the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, was moderately wounded in the shoulder, the group said.
The army said it carried out Saturday’s airstrike, near the Jebaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza, after spotting the militants trying to plant a bomb. It said militants had planted explosives in the same area two days earlier.
The Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a small militant group, said the militants were “on a holy mission” when they were hit by the Israeli force.
In a joint statement with the Islamic Jihad militant group, the DFLP said the dead militant blew himself up in an attempt to cause casualties among Israeli ground troops.
However, Palestinian medical officials said the nature of the man’s wounds indicated the airstrike was the cause of death.
The incident was the latest blow to the truce, reached last November between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza.
Israel says militants have been exploiting the lull to smuggle explosives, missiles and other weapons into Gaza through tunnels from neighboring Egypt. During the truce, militants also have continued to fire rockets into Israel.
On Wednesday, a Palestinian gunman was killed in an exchange of fire with Israeli troops in an area where militants frequently fire rockets toward Israel.
The army said militants have planted more than 40 bombs along the border since the cease-fire declaration.
Israeli military officials have repeatedly warned of the arms buildup in Gaza in recent weeks, and the army has been preparing for a large-scale invasion.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has so far refused to authorize such an operation. But his defense minister, Amir Peretz, has given the green light for limited operations along the border to halt rocket launchers, bombings or infiltrations. Israel withdrew from Gaza, ending a 38-year occupation, in September 2005.
Also Saturday, the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, a militant group linked to President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party, said Zubeydi was shot in the shoulder during a gunbattle with Israeli forces in the northern West Bank city of Jenin. The group said Zubeydi was being treated at a private residence.
Israel’s army confirmed it fired at a gunman in a battle in Jenin’s refugee camp overnight, but said it did not know the identity of the target. Israel says Zubeydi has been involved in numerous attacks against Israelis, including deadly roadside shootings.
Zubeydi, a fluent Hebrew speaker, is often interviewed by the Israeli media. He is best known for his friendship with an Israeli woman, Tali Fahima, who was jailed for more than two years on charges she shared classified information with Zubeydi.