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Militants Bomb Gaza Crossing

Palestinian militants set off a large truck bomb as gunmen stormed an Israeli base at a vital Gaza crossing Thursday, killing five Israelis and wounding five others in an attack that defied peace efforts by new Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.

The assault, in which three Palestinians attackers were also killed, was by far the biggest since Abbas won an election Sunday to succeed Yasser Arafat as head of the Palestinian Authority. Abbas has been trying to persuade militant groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad to agree to a cease-fire, but so far with no success.

The attack also came just hours after a West Bank Hamas leader said the Islamic group might consider an end to attacks against Israel.

It took place at 11 p.m. at the Karni crossing, where all the farm produce and other goods enter and leave the Gaza Strip. It came hours after a West Bank Hamas leader said the Islamic group might consider an end to attacks against Israel.

The bombers entered the crossing minutes before it was to close, Army Radio reported. The operating hours of the position were recently increased to allow more goods to cross, the Maariv daily reported.

A month ago, soldiers discovered a tunnel militants were digging toward the Karni checkpoint in an attempt to blow it up.

A statement to The Associated Press from the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, affiliated with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah faction, said the fighters were killed "in a martyrdom operation" near the Karni crossing in southern Gaza.

Such language usually indicates a suicide attack against an Israeli target. A spokesman for another group, the Popular Resistance Committees, said militants filmed the attack. Hamas also claimed responsibility in the joint operation.

Israeli rescue services said ambulances were having difficulty entering the area because of an exchange of gunfire between militants and Israeli forces. About 45 minutes after the attack, the gunfire subsided, Israel Radio reported.

There are several Israeli military installations in the area of the crossing.

The attack came a month after Palestinian militants tunneled under another Israeli crossing point and blew it up, killing five Israeli soldiers. That attack, on Dec. 12, targeted the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt.

On Jan. 14, 2004, a female suicide bomber blew herself up at the Erez crossing point, the main exit for Palestinian workers who have jobs in Israel. Four Israelis were killed in that attack.

By Ibrahim Barzak

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