Video: Gun battle at crossing

updated 6/18/2007 3:05:45 PM ET 2007-06-18T19:05:45

At least one Palestinian was killed and 15 wounded as gunmen and Israeli soldiers exchanged fire Monday at the Erez crossing between Israel and Gaza, the Israeli rescue service and Palestinian hospital officials said.

Israel TV said as many as four people were killed, and some of the wounded were being taken by ambulance to an Israeli hospital in nearby Ashkelon.

The military said no Israelis were injured.

The Israeli army said the casualties were all caused by the Palestinian attackers, who hurled a hand grenade and fired bursts of automatic weapons fire at a group of dozens of people huddled in a concrete tunnel on the Gaza side of the crossing as they sought to flee the coastal strip, taken over last week by the violent Islamic Hamas group.

"The casualties are from the Palestinian fire," said Maj. Tal Evram, an army spokesman. "The incident is primarily a Palestinian terror attack on Palestinians."

Since Hamas wrested control of the Gaza Strip from the rival Fatah movement last week in savage street fighting, the Erez crossing has been crowded with Gazans trying to get away from the fenced-in coastal territory. Israel has let only a few through, citing its own security concerns.

Masked Hamas gunmen have erected a roadblock outside the terminal to keep waves of people from rushing to the border, and to look for Fatah officials trying to escape.

On several previous occasions, gunmen, some from Hamas and others from warring clans, have run into the tunnel, which leads to the border terminal, and fired at those waiting, only to be driven off by Israeli fire and tear gas, witnesses said.

Evram said that in Monday evening's shooting a soldier on the Israeli side fired a few, single rounds at an armed Palestinian but the exchange between the sides was incidental to the main attack on the Palestinian civilians.

Abu Mujahid, spokesman for the militant Popular Resistance Committees, said two of his group's men fired at soldiers at Erez and the Israelis fired back, hitting civilians.

An eyewitness, who refused to give his name for fear of retribution, said four Palestinian gunmen raced past people at the crossing and opened fire on the Israelis, setting off the exchange.

Hamas denounced the PRC assault in the narrow confines of the Erez complex. "There are civilians at the crossing and this can cause problems," said Iyad Buzum, a Hamas official in northern Gaza. The PRC has some links to Hamas.

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