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Hamas suicide bombers attack Israel-Gaza crossing; 13 hurt
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    JERUSALEM — Hamas bombers attacked an Israeli-Gaza border crossing under the cover of fog Saturday, detonating two jeeps made to look like Israeli military vehicles and packed with hundreds of pounds of explosives.
    The twin blasts, just hours before the Jewish Passover holiday, wounded 13 Israeli soldiers in what Hamas said was an attempt to break the nearly yearlong blockade of the territory. Four Hamas assailants died, Israeli officials said.
    Meanwhile, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter met with senior Hamas leaders in Damascus, Syria, for a second day to hear their views, defying U.S. and Israeli warnings that doing so would grant the group legitimacy. The U.S. and Israel have labeled Hamas a terrorist organization.
    An Israeli army commander said the Hamas operation was the most ambitious since Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, even though another planned attempt at the border was averted Saturday. The attack was the fifth on a crossing by Gaza militants since last week, and Hamas threatened to target the passages again.
    Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak later visited the area. ‘‘When the time comes, Hamas will bear the consequences,’’ Barak warned, in comments quoted by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz on its Web site.
    Despite such attacks, Hamas has said it seeks a truce on the Gaza-Israel border, and Egypt has been trying to broker such a deal. Hamas’ motives for its ostensibly contradictory actions were not clear.
    Hamas officials said they talked to Carter about ways to lift the Gaza closure and the possibility of swapping an Israeli soldier held in Gaza for Palestinian prisoners in Israel.
    In Washington, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit reported progress in talks on a prisoner swap, and said it would involve the release of up to 400 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Cpl. Gilad Shalit.
    The Egyptian news agency MENA quoted Aboul Gheit as saying that an informal truce on the Gaza-Israel border and an eventual opening of the Gaza border crossings, under control of the moderate West Bank government of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, could also be part of the package.
    However, Hamas signaled it is getting impatient. Saturday’s attacks ‘‘are the beginning of the explosions that Hamas has warned of,’’ said a senior Hamas official, Sami Abu Zuhri. ‘‘If the parties don’t intervene quickly to save Gaza and break the siege, what is coming will be greater.’’
    Israel and Egypt virtually sealed Gaza last summer after the violent Hamas takeover of the territory. Since then, only basic supplies have been allowed through Gaza’s crossings.
    The attack on the Kerem Shalom crossing started at about 6 a.m. Saturday, said Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant, the top army commander in the area.
    Hamas militants drove an armored personnel carrier and two jeeps made to look like Israeli army vehicles toward the crossing under the cover of morning fog as Hamas pounded the border area with heavy mortar fire.
    The armored personnel carrier broke through the perimeter fence, enabling the two jeeps to enter the crossing. One jeep was detonated near an army watchtower and the second near a patrol, security officials said. Thirteen soldiers were wounded in the second blast, including eight who were hospitalized.
    Military officials said each jeep carried hundreds of pounds of explosives.
    Galant said Hamas apparently tried to cause a large number of casualties and to kidnap soldiers.
    ‘‘This is an attack the likes of which we have not seen since disengagement,’’ Galant said, referring to Israel’s pullout from Gaza in September 2005.
    Later Saturday, an Israeli aircraft fired a missile at a car near Kerem Shalom, killing a mechanic for the Hamas police and wounding four people, Palestinian security officials and medics said.
    On Saturday evening, another missile strike killed four Hamas militants east of Gaza City, Palestinian medics and security officials said. The Israeli military confirmed the strike, and said it targeted a group trying to launch rockets.
    Hamas said three of its gunmen were killed Saturday, but released a farewell video of four attackers. One of the faces was blocked out, suggesting he could still at large.
    The video showed three vehicles driving off into the morning fog. The assailants posed for the camera, smiling and toting rifles.
    Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said Hamas is showing disregard for the welfare of Gaza’s residents by attacking the crossings.
    ‘‘Israel has no illusions as to the true nature of Hamas and as to that organization’s extremist agenda,’’ Regev said. ‘‘It is not an accident that the international community views Hamas as illegitimate and has officially declared Hamas a terrorist organization.’’
    Palestinian analyst Khalil Shaheen, a writer for the Palestinian daily Al Ayyam, said Hamas is apparently stepping up border attacks to remind those involved in a possible border deal that its interests have to be taken into account.

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