Five Palestinians, including a 15-year-old boy, and an Israeli soldier on his first mission as a combat photographer were killed early this morning during a tank and helicopter raid into a refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip, according to Israeli and Palestinian officials.
The assault by more than 30 tanks and armored vehicles was one of the largest raids in the Gaza Strip in the past two months. The Israeli military pressed deep into the narrow alleys of the densely populated Rafah refugee camp, which sprawls along Gaza's southern border with Egypt, in the five-hour raid.
Cpl. Lior Ziv, 19, a member of the combat photography unit for the Israeli military's public affairs office, was shot in the head by a Palestinian sniper during an ambush outside a militant's house that soldiers were preparing to demolish, according to Maj. Sharon Feingold, a military spokeswoman.
Ziv had been a photographer for the public affairs office for nine months and was on his first mission accompanying a combat unit, Feingold said. The Israeli military frequently sends photographers and video teams with combat units to document operations, she said. Ziv was the first Israeli military cameraman to be killed during the conflict, which began 30 months ago.
A soldier who was operating a video camera was shot in both knees during the ambush, and an Israeli medic who attempted to aid the men was injured, Feingold said. She added that the armored jeep, which was marked as a medical vehicle, was attacked by rocket-propelled grenade launchers and antitank missiles as it attempted to reach the injured soldiers.
Palestinian officials said four Palestinian men and the teenager were killed and 38 Palestinians were injured during the operation on the western side of the Rafah camp.
"There was a massive exchange of fire," Feingold said. "The Palestinians used everything -- RPGs, antitank rockets, explosive devices."
The Israeli military used 60-ton Merkava tanks and armored personnel carriers supported by AH-64 Apache helicopters.
The violence in the Gaza Strip came as the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, and his new prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, known as Abu Mazen, waged political combat over the appointment of a new cabinet. Arafat is opposed to some of Abbas's more independent-minded selections, particularly his choice to head the Palestinian security services, according to Palestinian officials monitoring weekend meetings between the two men. President Bush has tied the release of a Middle East peace plan called the "road map" to the appointment of Abu Mazen's cabinet.
Israeli military officials said the primary target of the mission this morning was the destruction of two tunnels they said were used to smuggle weapons from Egypt to the Gaza Strip. Feingold said one tunnel had been dug more than 30 yards underground, the deepest of about 65 tunnels the Israeli military has found during the Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Another target of the raid was Mohammed Abu Shammalah -- a Rafah leader in the Islamic Resistance Movement, known as Hamas -- who is accused by the Israeli military of smuggling weapons. Although soldiers did not find Abu Shammalah, combat engineers blew up his house and four others, according to Palestinian witnesses.
The Israeli military photography crew was ambushed just after filming and photographing inside Abu Shammalah's house, Feingold said.
Maj. Yochai Michael, who heads the film department for the military's public affairs office, told Israeli television that the military dispatches its own teams of writers and photographers on combat missions because Israel is fighting a media war in addition to a conflict with the Palestinians. He said the videos and photos give the military's side to what he described as the frequently unflattering images of the military in the news media.
On Saturday, Israeli soldiers shot and killed a Palestinian cameraman for Associated Press Television News during a clash between the Israeli army and Palestinians in the West Bank city of Nablus. Nazeh Darwazeh, 43, who was wearing a bright green vest marked "Press," was hit when an Israeli soldier fired down an alley where journalists were fleeing a gunfight between soldiers and Palestinians, according to video footage shot by the Reuters news agency and Palestinian cameramen on the scene.