Israeli soldiers are brought into Soroka hospital in Beersheva Photo: AP

Jerusalem----January 9......Updated 20:00.......Two Arab terrorists armed with grenades and assault rifles penetrated an IDF defensive position early this morning near the Gaza Strip, killing four soldiers before being shot dead in a gun battle, said the IDF Spokesperson's Office.

The Palestinian terrorist group Hamas said it was responsible for the pre-dawn raid in southern Israel Wednesday in which gunmen shot dead four Israeli soldiers before being killed themselves. The Israeli military said both assailants wore Palestinian police uniforms. The IDF reported that 8 terrorists had cut through fences on the Gaza - Israel border, allowing the two PA uniformed attackers quick access into the Israeli base.
"This is a turning point, as it was the first successful infiltration of Israel from the Gaza Strip," said Israeli army general Doron Almog.

The Israeli defensive position which was attacked earlier today

Prasing the efforts of their terrorist activity Hamas claimed responsiblity and stated: "There has been a bold attack on a position near Gaza airport, in which four enemy soldiers were killed." Hamas politburo head Khaled Meshal told a political conference in Beirut that: "Two were martyred (in the raid). The brethren have just informed me that the Qassam brigades (the military wing of Hamas) have claimed responsibility," he said.

The terror attack broke almost a week's silence except for the capture of a Palestinian terror ship which was carrying 50 tons of weapons for Arab terrorists.

An IDF officer and three soldiers were killed this morning while defending themselves from Palestinian terrorists.

Maj. Ashraf Hoiash Mazarib, 28, from Beit Zarzir

Sgt.-Maj. Ibrahim Hamadieh, 23, from Reihaneih

St.-Sgt. Mofeid Sawayed, 25, from Abu Snan

Sgt.-Maj. Eli Abu-Ghanem, 25, from Haifa

The four were Beduins from an IDF desert patrol unit stationed in the vicinity.

Two other soldiers were wounded, one seriously, in the attack.

Hamas, which opposes the negotiated peace process Arafat began with Israel in 1993, said after Arafat's December 16 call for reduced violence that it was suspending attacks inside Israel. Hizbollah's Al-Manar TV, which was broadcasting the conference, later quoted Meshal as identifying the Palestinian gunmen as Imad Rizq and Mohammed Jamoos.

The relative lull in violence that followed Arafat's call boosted hopes of reviving a U.S.-backed truce-to-talks plan which aims to end some 15 months of conflict in which at least 238 Israelis have been murdered.

Meshal provided no direct explanation for the apparent resumption of armed attacks on Israelis, but said Palestinians had received no political gains in exchange for the cease-fire, and had nothing to gain by renouncing armed struggle.

50 tons of Iranian / Palestinian terror weapons captured by the IDF

Perhaps after the humilating PA terror boat's capture by the IDF, Hamas now had nothing to lose in attacking Israeli targets. "My brothers in the Palestinian Authority, what have you won with this cooling-off, and repeated declarations of cease-fires? What do you have to show for meeting the demands of the Zionist entity and America?" he asked. Hamas has made it very clear that they have learned nothing from September 11th and America's war against terror will continue attacks against both Israel and the United States.

Israeli Foreign Ministry official Arye Mekel said Wednesday's attack was proof that the Palestinian Authority ``has done nothing, or very little, to fight terrorism.''

At a solidarity dinner last night in Jerusalem, celebrating Jewish youth visiting Israel in a program called "Birthright Israel", Israeli Prime Minister Sharon said the captured arms shipment showed Iran and the Palestinians were closely collaborating to strike at Israel. The captain of the ship has said that the weapons were loaded in Iran and intended for the Palestinians.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld expressed support for Israel's action. ``They clearly had very good intelligence that those weapons were going to be used against them and they intercepted the ship by pre-empting that ship from landing and unloading and then providing those weapons to be used against Israel,'' Rumsfeld said on C-SPAN television.

Sharon has made it very clear that the political party of Yasser Arafat - Fatah - has continued to support terrorist activites against Israel.
Israeli Government spokesman Avi Pazner said that Israel would "not remain indifferent to the attacks".