Palestinian fighters sneaked onto an Israeli military post at a small Jewish settlement in the Gaza Strip early Thursday under cover of darkness and a thick morning fog and killed three Israeli soldiers, an Israeli military spokesman said.
Israeli forces killed two of the attackers at the Morag settlement, but a third escaped detection and hid among nearby greenhouses, the army spokesman said. That gunman unleashed a second surprise attack about four hours later and shot an Israeli journalist in the leg before being killed in an intense firefight with Israeli soldiers, the spokesman said.
The incident was the second major Palestinian strike in two days and followed a summer of relatively few attacks against Israelis.
On Wednesday, a 19-year-old suicide bomber from Nablus evaded a tight Israeli security net around Jerusalem and blew herself up at a bus stop and hitchhiking post in the northern part of the city, killing two officers from Israel's Border Patrol.
Late Wednesday, the Israeli army demolished the house of the woman's family in Nablus and another house belonging to the man who allegedly dispatched her.
Thursday's attack in Morag, located in the southern Gaza Strip about three miles from the Israeli and Egyptian borders, was reminiscent of an incident last October at another Gaza settlement, Netzarim. There, a Palestinian fighter used the seasonal morning fog to get through the fence of a military base undetected and kill three Israeli soldiers.
That attack sparked a national outcry by Israelis who complained that assigning thousands of soldiers to protect the approximately 8,000 Jews who live in 21 Gaza settlements was not worth the cost in lives and money.
Two months later, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon announced what he has called a disengagement plan, aimed at withdrawing all Israeli troops and Jewish settlers from Gaza. The plan is still on the drawing board, but Israeli officials as well as Palestinian militants say that current Palestinian attacks are meant to create the impression that Israel is retreating under fire from the Gaza Strip, home to about 1.4 million Palestinians.
Thursday's attacks began at about 6 a.m., when the three Palestinian gunmen infiltrated the base from the south through a complex of greenhouses and fired into a trailer where soldiers live. Two soldiers were killed when they burst out the door to confront their attackers, and a third was killed coming to their aid, the army spokesman said.
The Israeli military identified the three as Capt. Tal Bardugo, 22, and Staff Sgts. Nir Sami, 21, and Israel Luttaty, 20.
Hearing the shooting, other Israeli soldiers ran to the scene and opened fire, killing two of the Palestinians, the spokesman said, while the third gunman apparently retreated back into the area of the greenhouses. After a search of the base, Israeli soldiers determined that all the attackers had died or escaped, the spokesman said.
But at about 10 a.m., as army officials were briefing a group of reporters invited onto the base, the Palestinian gunman opened fire, wounding Itzik Saban, 40, a regional reporter for the Israeli daily Yedioth Aharonoth, according to the army spokesman and an account of the incident on the paper's Web site.
The spokesman said the gunman was unsuccessful in luring soldiers to an area where he had planted a land mine. He was shot and killed after a prolonged gun battle.
In a joint communique, three Palestinian groups asserted responsibility for the attack. The statement identified the dead Palestinians as Mohammed Azazi of Islamic Jihad; Imad Abu Samahadana of the Popular Resistance Committees; and Yousef Amr of the Ahmed Abu Rish Brigades, an armed offshoot of the Fatah political movement headed by the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat.