Israeli Airstrike on Car Kills 3 in Gaza
By IBRAHIM BARZAK
The Associated Press
Saturday, February 28, 2004; 8:17 PM
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip - An Israeli helicopter fired missiles at a car in a densely populated neighborhood of the Gaza Strip on Saturday, killing three Islamic militants and wounding 15 people, doctors said.
Three of the wounded were in critical condition after the airstrike between Gaza City and the Jebaliya refugee camp. The wounded included three children, one of whom was among those in critical condition, the doctors said.
The two missiles hit with a thunderous explosion. Palestinian security officials strained to keep order around the scene as surging crowds jumped on the wreckage and called for revenge.
Israel said the car carried senior Islamic Jihad militants who planned several attacks on Israelis. The military said it believed the men were transporting explosives in the car.
There has been speculation Israel will step up its strikes against militants before a possible withdrawal from much of the Gaza Strip in an effort to prevent militants from claiming that they drove out Israeli forces.
Two advisers to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon were leaving for Washington late Saturday to discuss his unilateral withdrawal plan with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. Sharon has said he would coordinate any pullback with the United States.
Islamic Jihad identified the three men killed in Saturday's strike as Mahmoud Judah, a field commander of the group's military wing; militant Ayman Dahdouh; and Dahdouh's cousin, Amin, a group supporter but not a militant. Two of the bodies were decapitated in the attack.
In a statement, Israel's military said the strike's main target, Judah, directed many attacks on Israelis, including one in October when two gunmen killed three Israeli soldiers as they slept in their barracks in the Jewish settlement of Netzarim.
Israel frequently has sent helicopter gunships and warplanes to kill Palestinian militants in targeted missile strikes during more than three years of fighting. The last such strike was Feb. 7, when an Islamic Jihad leader and a 12-year-old boy were killed.
An Islamic Jihad spokesman said the group will continue battling Israel.
"God willing, Palestinians will win this battle of honor and will achieve victory and will liberate the Holy Land," Khalid al-Batch said.
In other developments, Palestinian gunmen in black ski masks burst into a Gaza office of the Palestinian Broadcasting Corp. on Saturday and demanded work, a day after the mayor of the West Bank's largest city resigned to protest Yasser Arafat's failure to stop such violence.
The growing chaos comes as the Palestinian leader tries to silence dissatisfaction with his rule and rebellion from younger reform-minded activists in his own Fatah movement.
Fatah leaders met Saturday to plan internal elections. Arafat promised disgruntled activists a vote would be held within a year, and on Saturday a committee was formed to prepare for elections, Cabinet Minister Jamal Shobaki said.
© 2004 The Associated Press