Strike in Gaza Kills 3 Children

By Scott Wilson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, June 21, 2006

JERUSALEM, June 20 -- An Israeli airstrike in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday killed at least three Palestinian children and wounded 14 people, many of them children as well, according to witnesses and Palestinian health officials.

Israeli military officials said the target of the strike, which occurred around 7:30 p.m., was a car carrying gunmen from the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the armed wing of the Fatah party. Military officials said the men were planning to carry out an unspecified attack, perhaps preparing to fire missiles into southern Israel.

But Palestinian witnesses said the men escaped from the Volkswagen Golf station wagon before the missile struck the car, which was passing through a busy commercial district of Gaza City. The scene turned quickly into an angry rally with demonstrators denouncing the attack and vowing to take revenge on Israel.

Shrapnel from the blast sprayed into a group of bystanders, Palestinian witnesses said. Hospital officials in Gaza said three children -- Mohammed Roqa, 5, Samia al-Shariff, 5, and Belal al-Hessi, 15 -- suffered fatal wounds in the attack.

"If there were civilian casualties as a result of this, the IDF does regret it, as it always does," said a spokesman for Israel's military, the Israel Defense Forces. "But the fact is the terrorist organizations operate within these civilian areas, and the Hamas government has done nothing to stop them."

Hours earlier, the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, called on the various armed groups at war with Israel to stop the rocket fire that has frightened and infuriated Israeli communities on the periphery of the Gaza Strip. Among the groups is the military wing of Hamas, the radical Islamic movement now running the Palestinian ministries, although two smaller factions are chiefly responsible for the missile fire.

At least three missiles landed in southern Israel on Tuesday before Abbas made his appeal, although there were no reports of injuries. The missiles are highly inaccurate and have not killed any Israelis since Israel evacuated its settlements in Gaza last year. But the attacks have surged recently, and one Israeli man was gravely injured this month.

The southern city of Sderot, the target of many of the missiles, closed schools, streets and the municipal government Tuesday to protest what residents say is the Israeli government's weak response to the rocket fire.

[On Wednesday, Israeli soldiers shot dead an armed Palestinian man and wounded another man in a raid in the West Bank town of Nablus, medics and Israeli military sources said, Reuters reported.]

The airstrike Tuesday came a week after an Israeli missile attack on a minibus carrying at least one rocket in Gaza City killed at least 10 Palestinians Also this month, an explosion on a beach in northern Gaza killed eight Palestinian civilians. Palestinian officials and a rights group have said an Israeli artillery shell may have caused the blast. Israel has denied involvement.

Special correspondent Islam Abdelkareem in Gaza City contributed to this report.

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