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Gunmen abduct 2 Italian aid workers in Gaza

Written by: Staff

GAZA, Nov 21 (Reuters) Gunmen abducted two Italians working for the International Committee of the Red Cross in southern Gaza today, the latest in a spate of kidnappings of foreigners in the Palestinian coastal strip.

Police said the aid workers were in a car on their way to the town of Khan Younis when they were intercepted by gunmen.

''They were taken out of their vehicle and put into another car which then sped away,'' said one police officer at the scene.

An ICRC spokesman in Jerusalem, Simon Schorno, identified the abducted men as Claudio Moroni and Gianmarco Onorato. He said they were representatives of the Italian Red Cross.

There was no claim of responsibility for the abductions, which underscore the lawlessness in Gaza, where factional fighting and Western sanctions imposed on the Hamas government have worsened poverty among the strip's 1.4 million people.

Most foreigners kidnapped in recent months in Gaza, usually aid workers and journalists, have been freed unharmed within hours. However, two journalists working for the US Fox News channel who were abducted in August were held by militants for two weeks before being released.

The kidnapping came hours after Palestinian militants fired rockets into an Israeli town during a visit by the UN high commissioner for human rights, critically wounding one person, witnesses and ambulance workers said.

Commissioner Louise Arbour, on a tour of the Palestinian territories and Israel, was unhurt in the attack in Sderot, where each salvo increases right-wing pressure on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for more powerful military operations in Gaza.

''They (the rockets) landed a few hundred yards away from where we were,'' said Christopher Gunness, a UN spokesman who accompanied Arbour on the visit to the town.

The Hamas armed wing said it launched the makeshift rockets at Sderot and had not known Arbour would be there.

The salvo landed after Israeli troops killed a Hamas gunman in fighting in northern Gaza, hospital officials said. One Palestinian man, a civilian, died of his wounds after being hit by Israeli gunfire in clashes, other hospital officials said.

PROTESTS Arbour arrived in Sderot from Gaza, where she toured the town of Beit Hanoun, scene of Israeli shelling that killed 19 civilians on November 8. Israel said it had made a targeting error.

''It seems to me that we cannot tolerate much longer the level of exposure that civilians have to face every single day in Sderot and in Beit Hanoun as well, where I was the day before,'' Arbour said on Israel's Channel 2 television.

Several workers in the industrial zone where the rocket landed tried to storm Arbour's car and one woman threw a clump of dirt and pebbles at the vehicle. Police pushed them back.

''No one wants to help us. We have no government,'' one of the protesters shouted.

Hours before the Sderot attack, Israeli troops and tanks launched a raid against a militant stronghold in Gaza City, killing a gunman during clashes in which an elderly woman also died, witnesses and hospital officials said.

The officials said it was not immediately clear who fired at the 70-year-old woman. An Israeli military spokeswoman called the operation a raid to detain militants.

Israeli forces and settlers quit Gaza last year, but the military renewed ground operations in the strip after militants captured an Israeli soldier in a deadly border raid in June.


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