NUSSEIRAT REFUGEE CAMP, Gaza Strip (AP) – In the bloodiest day
in the Gaza Strip in months, Israeli warplanes and helicopters
pounded militant targets yesterday, killing 10 Palestinians,
including seven in a refugee camp where a car was destroyed, and
wounding about 100.

The violent Islamic movements Hamas and Islamic Jihad threatened
revenge, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon pledged more raids and
the State Department advised U.S. citizens to defer travel to
Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.

With prospects for Mideast peace efforts further clouded, U.S.
officials confirmed that John Wolf, the head of the team monitoring
implementation of the troubled U.S.-backed “road map” peace plan,
was not planning to return to the region soon.

The bombing raids yesterday came a day after Palestinian
militants fired eight homemade rockets from Gaza into southern
Israel and Palestinian gunmen ambushed an Israeli patrol in the
West Bank, killing three soldiers and seriously wounding a
fourth.

Israeli aircraft struck in five separate locations, hitting a
suspected Hamas weapons cache twice, another storehouse and a car
carrying suspected militants.

The nighttime strike in the Nusseirat camp in central Gaza, in
which 75 people were wounded in addition to the seven killed, was
the bloodiest since an April missile raid on a Hamas leader in Gaza
City killed nine people.

Residents said Israeli helicopters fired three missiles at the
main street, destroying a car. An Israeli army statement said the
vehicle was carrying members of a Palestinian terrorist squad
fleeing after a failed attempt to breach the border fence with
Israel a few miles to the northeast.

But Israel’s Channel 10 TV said that none of the dead were
militants, characterizing the refugee camp strike as a
“mistake.”

Residents said one of the dead was a doctor who was treating
victims when a second missile struck. The identity of the other
victims was not immediately known.

Hundreds of camp residents carried charred pieces of the vehicle
aloft and chanted, “Revenge, revenge.”

In Gaza City, Israeli helicopters fired missiles at a building
in the Shajaiyeh neighborhood, the same structure that was hit in
an earlier airstrike yesterday, residents said. Eleven people were
wounded, they said.

Israeli military sources said the attack was meant to finish the
work of the first one.

The first three airstrikes yesterday destroyed two weapons labs
and warehouses of Hamas, the military said. Four children and a
70-year-old woman were among 25 wounded. Two missiles exploded on a
street crowded with schoolchildren.

During three years of violence, Israeli airstrikes in Gaza have
caused dozens of civilian casualties. In April, an air attack
killed Hamas leader Said Arabeed and eight other people. In July
2002, 15 people were killed, including nine children, in an
airstrike that targeted another Hamas leader, Salah Shehadeh.

Negotiations over implementing the “road map” plan, formally
presented in June, have sputtered amid violence and political
turmoil. The plan calls for an end to the three-year conflict and
leads to a Palestinian state in 2005.

Wolf, the head of the team monitoring implementation of the
troubled U.S.-backed “road map” peace plan, left for the United
States last month, saying at the time he’d be back in 10 days.

A Palestinian bombing attack on a U.S. convoy in Gaza last week,
killing three American guards, had led to expectations that the
United States would scale back its involvement.

Except for a six-week Palestinian stand-down in the summer,
clashes and bombings have continued unabated. Also, the
Palestinians have been unable to field a stable government, and
with Israel and the United States boycotting Palestinian leader
Yasser Arafat, no recent contacts have been held between Israeli
and Palestinian officials.

In a speech to parliament yesterday, Sharon called Arafat “the
greatest obstacle to peace.” Therefore, he added, “Israel is
determined to bring about his removal from the political arena,”
referring to a Cabinet decision last month. In a newspaper
interview last week, Sharon had indicated that he had no plan to
expel Arafat – an apparent softening of Israel’s position.

Sharon’s criticism of Arafat was greeted with catcalls and
prompted several Arab legislators to walk out of the chamber. The
speech also received a harsh response from Shimon Peres, leader of
the opposition Labor Party, who accused Sharon of being insincere
in his peacemaking efforts.

“Prime minister, you have missed the opportunity,” Peres
said.

“We are dealing with a nation that is fighting for its freedom,
and don’t take them lightly,” said Peres, who shared the 1994 Nobel
peace prize, of the Palestinians.

Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian peace negotiator, called
Sharon’s address a “speech of continuing the use of the most
disproportionate use of force against Palestinians and a speech
that was determined to undermine hope, peace, and
reconciliation.”

The facilities Israel targeted Monday had been used to make and
store weapons, including Qassams, the army said. Hamas has fired
dozens of Qassams, with a range of about six miles, at Israeli
settlements in Gaza and at towns just outside the fence in the past
three years.

The airstrikes targeted the “artery of the weapons chain,” said
an Israeli army spokeswoman, Maj. Sharon Feingold.

Palestinians were harshly critical. Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia
said that “the world should wake up to this aggression,” but that
he still hopes to negotiate a truce with Israel.

In the first strike, Israeli warplanes bombed a building under
construction in Gaza City that Israel said was a weapons site.

Eleven Palestinians were hurt in the bombing. The alleged
weapons workshop was 200 yards from the house of Islamic Jihad
leader Abdullah Shami, who was not hurt.

Less than three hours later, two missiles hit a white pickup
truck. An Israeli military official, speaking on condition of
anonymity, said the two men in the truck had tried to salvage
explosives not destroyed in the initial airstrike.

The two men in the truck and a bystander were killed, and 12
Palestinians were hurt, four seriously. Israel has killed dozens of
wanted Palestinians, as well as many bystanders, in targeted
attacks.

The pickup had stopped at a traffic light near a gas station on
a busy street crowded with schoolchildren, when the missiles hit
the front of the vehicle. A kindergarten and an elementary school
had just let out students for the day.

“Schoolchildren were trying to cross the road (at the time),”
said bus driver Ahmed Sobeh, who was driving behind the pickup. “I
saw a person in the car being evacuated and his body was completely
burned. I also saw a teenager on the side of the street covered
with blood but he was alive.”

In the third attack, a missile destroyed a one-room house on the
outskirts of Gaza City. A second missile demolished a car parked
nearby, Palestinian officials said. The car’s passengers apparently
fled before the missile hit, witnesses said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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