GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – Israeli airstrikes in the Gaza Strip on Sunday killed two Hamas militants and wounded two television cameramen, while Israeli troops searched for tunnels under Gaza's border fence with Israel. A third Palestinian was later killed by an Israeli sniper during the raid, hospital officials said.
A first strike, in the early hours, hit an armored car belonging to the Reuters news agency, moderately wounding five people, including the two cameramen, Palestinian witnesses and hospital officials said.
The Israeli army said that in the darkness, no press markings were seen on the vehicle. The army said the car was moving in a suspicious manner near Israeli troops inside a combat zone.
A Hamas militant was killed in another air raid, hospital officials said. The army later reported another strike, against a group of Palestinians carrying an anti-tank missile. Hamas said one of its men was killed in that attack.
On Sunday afternoon, a 20-year-old Palestinian man in the Shajaiyeh neighborhood of Gaza City, where the raid was taking place, was killed after being shot in the head by a sniper, hospital officials said. The army said the man approached the soldiers carrying an anti-tank missile, and the troops shot him.
The violence came as Israeli soldiers — backed by two dozen tanks, two bulldozers, helicopters and unmanned aerial drones combed an area just inside the Gaza Strip in what an Israeli military statement said was a search for "terror infrastructure", particularly tunnels.
Israel stepped up raids and airstrikes in Gaza after a June 25 raid by Hamas-linked militants, who tunneled into Israel captured a young Israeli soldier and took him back to Gaza, where he is believed to be held in an underground hideout. The soldier, Gilad Shalit, will turn 20 on Monday.
Soon after Shalit's kidnapping, Israeli troops arrested two dozen Hamas lawmakers in the West Bank and nine Cabinet ministers. Four of the ministers have since been released.
On Sunday, about 10 army jeeps surrounded lawmaker Mahmoud Musleh's house in Ramallah, and soldiers entered and arrested him, according to his daughter and Palestinian security officials. The army confirmed the arrest.
His capture, which brought to 31 the number of detained Hamas lawmakers, put almost all of Hamas' West Bank leadership in Israeli custody. Much of the rest of the Hamas leadership is in Gaza.
Israel says its roundup of Hamas officials is a legitimate act against a terrorist group. Palestinian officials say the lawmakers and Cabinet ministers are being held as bargaining chips to secure Shalit's release. The militants holding Shalit have demanded a large release of Palestinian prisoners, which Israel has refused.
Israel's government said Sunday it has appointed an official who will oversee efforts to bring about Shalit's release. "I hope this will bring results," acting Justice Minister Meir Shetreet said.
In Cairo, the Egyptian daily Al Ahram said a German-brokered three-way prisoner swap involving Hamas, Israel and Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas was in the works. Hezbollah kidnapped two Israeli soldiers July 12, providing the spark for a monthlong Israel-Hezbollah war.
In Gaza City, the Reuters crew members, Fadel Shama'a, 23, and Sabah Hamida, 25, who worked for a local television company, were in Shajaiyeh overnight to film the military activity. They had just opened the doors of their armored vehicle when it was hit by two missiles, according to Shamas Odeh, chief of Reuters TV in Gaza.
The cameramen and three bystanders were moderately injured by shrapnel and all five were sent for surgery, hospital officials said.
The front seats of the car were covered in blood and shrapnel had ripped up much of the inside of the vehicle. One of the bulletproof windows was completely destroyed.
The white sports utility vehicle was emblazoned with the Reuters logo and had "TV" and "Press" written on it in English, Arabic and Hebrew.
Capt. Noa Meir, an army spokeswoman, said the vehicle was the only one in the combat area, was driving suspiciously and came near Israeli forces during the nighttime raid.
"It was seen as a threat," she said. "There were no clear TV marks (on the car). At least we didn't see one."
During the operation, the army told residents in three nearby buildings to evacuate their houses as bulldozers cleared land near the border, witnesses said. Soldiers also took over some rooftops and searched several houses, they said.