Palestinian mortar shell fired near Gaza border, AFP photographer kidnapped

GAZA CITY (AP) — Palestinian fighters attacked the Gaza Strip’s main cargo crossing with mortar fire early Tuesday, lightly wounding an Israeli truck driver in the latest flare-up of violence in the coastal strip.

The attack on the Karni crossing came shortly after warring Palestinian factions resumed their violent infighting following a one-week pause, and gunmen abducted a foreign news photographer.

The Israeli army said the mortar attack hit a truck that was delivering building materials to Gaza. It said the attack did not disrupt the flow of goods into Gaza.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has pledged to increase the movement of goods in and out of Gaza in an effort to boost the moderate Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, in his power struggle with the Islamist group Hamas.

There was no claim of responsibility for the attack.

Medical officials said the truck driver was lightly wounded and taken to a hospital.

Karni is the main transit point for Gaza’s imports and exports, and is critical to the area’s fragile economy. Traffic through the crossing has been severely restricted during months of fighting between Israel and Palestinian fighters.

Internal Palestinian tensions have also erupted into violence over the past month.

Late Monday, clashes in the Jabaliya refugee camp near Gaza City broke a weeklong lull in the confrontation between Hamas, which controls the government, and Abbas’ Fateh. In the past few weeks, 17 people have been killed in the internal fighting, leading to fears of civil war.

At least two people were wounded in the gunfire on Monday, security officials said, and media reports said 18 Hamas men and four from Fateh were kidnapped. Seven of the Hamas fighters were later freed. In the past, kidnapped fighters have usually been released unharmed.

The armed confrontations escalated as Fateh-Hamas talks on a national unity government broke down in late November.

Abbas wants to resume peace talks with Israel, while Hamas rejects the existence of the Jewish state.

Frustrated by lack of progress in unity talks, Abbas has threatened to call an early election. Hamas has rejected the plan as a coup attempt and said it would boycott the vote.

The renewed violence came during a four-day Muslim holiday, “Feast of the Sacrifice,” when Palestinians usually concentrate on family visits instead of internal politics.

Before sundown Monday, gunmen abducted a photographer from the French news agency, AFP, from downtown Gaza City.

AFP identified the photographer as Jaime Razuri, 50, from Peru. An AFP reporter said the photographer was returning from an assignment in Gaza and was abducted at gunpoint as he got out of his car with his driver.

Palestinian security officials said the kidnapping happened in central Gaza City, in the area where many foreign news agencies have offices. They said the victim was standing at an intersection when about five masked men approached him, pushed him in a car and sped away.

The security officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to release details. There was no public claim of responsibility for the kidnapping.

Abbas condemned the kidnapping, the latest in a string of abductions of foreign journalists and aid workers in Gaza.

The AFP reporter said the photographer spent most of his career covering Latin America.

The Tel Aviv-based Foreign Press Association, representing foreign journalists in Israel and the Palestinian areas, also condemned the abduction.

“We utterly condemn the continued harassment of journalists in this way. We must be allowed to work freely and without fear of kidnapping in Gaza,” the FPA said in a statement.

Most of Gaza’s kidnappings have been carried out by disgruntled workers seeking promises of payment of long overdue salaries or by splinter groups.

In most cases, the victims have been released unharmed within hours. An exception was the abduction of two Fox News employees last summer — they were held for two weeks.

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