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Grandmother targets Israeli troops as a suicide bomber

Times Staff Writer

Fighting in the Gaza Strip on Thursday killed at least six Palestinians, including a militant commander, as Israeli forces continued a drive to stop cross-border rocket attacks into southern Israel.

Amid the clashes, a 57-year-old Palestinian woman blew herself up near Israeli soldiers, slightly injuring three. The suicide bomber was identified by family members as Fatma Najar, a grandmother and member of the military wing of the ruling Hamas movement.

Female suicide bombers are relatively rare, and those older than 30 rarer still.

The Israeli army said the woman approached troops near the farming town of Beit Lahiya, in northern Gaza, and set off the explosives after soldiers spotted her and hurled stun grenades.

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It was the second time in recent weeks that a female suicide bomber set off explosives near soldiers operating in northern Gaza. On Nov. 6, a woman blew herself up near soldiers during a raid in the town of Beit Hanoun, slightly injuring one of them.

“I received the news with happiness. We are all proud of our mother. She was always hoping to be a martyr,” her 32-year-old son, Fuad, said as well-wishers handed out sweets and tossed flowers outside the family home in Jabaliya.

Elsewhere in Gaza, an Israeli airstrike killed Fayek abu Qumsan, the northern Gaza commander of the Popular Resistance Committees, one of the groups that fire homemade Kassam rockets over the border into southern Israel. He is the brother of one of the organization’s founders, who was killed in an Israeli attack three years ago.

Palestinian militants clashed throughout the day with Israeli troops, who were backed by tanks and aircraft, on the edges of several communities in northern Gaza. Also killed in the fighting were gunmen belonging to Hamas and Islamic Jihad. A 22-year-old Palestinian civilian also died, medical workers said.

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The Israeli push, which began this week, is the army’s latest attempt to prevent militants from launching the Kassams. Previous efforts, including raids, shelling and airstrikes, have failed.

Militants have launched 166 rockets this month, including five Thursday, the army said.

Palestinian officials criticized the Israeli incursions as a dangerous escalation.

“It’s not enough for Israel to control every aspect of life in Gaza, it has to visit untold horrors on an imprisoned and embattled civilian population,” said Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator. “This is a war crime that the international community must address.”

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Late Thursday, a spokesman for Islamic Jihad said militant groups, including Hamas, had agreed to stop firing rockets if Israel ceased attacks on Gaza and the West Bank.

But an Israeli government spokeswoman quoted by Reuters said Israel would stop its military activities only when militants also halted the smuggling of explosives and the manufacture of rockets.

The fighting took place as the Syrian-based political leader of Hamas, Khaled Meshaal, was in Cairo for talks with Egyptian officials who are seeking to broker a deal to free Israeli army Cpl. Gilad Shalit.

Shalit, now 20, was captured and taken into Gaza on June 25 after militants tunneled under the border. Egypt has sought to have him freed in return for Israel’s release of hundreds of imprisoned Palestinians. Meshaal’s visit raised hopes for a deal.

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Israeli military commanders have considered plans for a wide-scale incursion into Gaza to stem the attacks, but a major offensive in the crowded enclave carries political risks for Israeli leaders and the possibility of high casualties on both sides.

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ellingwood@latimes.com

Times special correspondent Rushdi abu Alouf in Gaza City contributed to this report.

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