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Israeli Airstrike Kills 3 Palestinians

Times Staff Writer

An Israeli air attack Tuesday on a car carrying militants in the Gaza Strip killed a Palestinian teenager and two younger children and left at least a dozen other bystanders wounded, Palestinian medical officials said.

The Israeli military said the missile strike, next to the village of Jabaliya on the northern edge of Gaza City, targeted members of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a militia tied to the Fatah movement of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. They escaped from the car shortly before the missile hit, the militant group said.

Israel said the airstrike came in response to persistent Kassam rocket attacks into Israel by Palestinian militants. The army expressed regret for any civilian casualties that might have occurred.

“It’s terrible when civilians are caught in the middle of this, especially children,” said Capt. Noa Meir, an Israeli army spokeswoman. “But the responsibility for this lies with the terrorist organizations that operate within heavily populated civilian areas, and also with the Palestinian government, which is not doing anything to stop these rockets attacks.”

The missile strike, targeting militants who Israeli officials believed were planning attacks, killed Bilal Hisi, 16, Samia Sharif, 7, and Mohammed Roka, 5, said Jumma Saka, a doctor at Shifa Hospital in Gaza City.

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The latest civilian fatalities come a week after an Israeli air attack against Gaza militants believed to be carrying a Katyusha rocket killed 11 people, nine of them civilians. That strike further inflamed passions in the Gaza Strip, where officials had blamed Israeli artillery for a June 9 explosion on a beach that killed eight civilians. Israel later said an investigation by its military concluded that it was not responsible for the beach blast.

Tuesday’s airstrike came as the southern Israeli town of Sderot, near the Gaza border, temporarily shut itself down to protest the Israeli government’s inability to halt Palestinian rocket attacks that residents say had made life miserable.

City officials closed municipal offices and blocked roads into town for several hours to draw attention to the salvos of Kassams. The crude weapons regularly fall in or near Sderot, though they seldom cause injury. This month, however, a maintenance worker was seriously injured when one of the rockets fired from the Gaza Strip fell onto a college campus at the edge of town.

Residents in Sderot, home to 25,000 people, have long complained of the rocket attacks; local officials say their town has come under fire 1,089 times since 2001.

But some residents and municipal leaders say the problem has intensified since Israel withdrew Jewish settlers and soldiers from the Gaza Strip last summer, emptying communities that previously had served as the main targets for Palestinian guerrillas armed with rocket launchers and mortars.

Thirty-four Kassams have landed in the Sderot area so far this month, more than twice the number for all of June last year, officials said. About 150 rockets have been fired into southern Israel from Gaza since June 1, according to the Israeli army. That number reflects the dozens of projectiles launched by militants, including members of Hamas, in retaliation for the beach explosion.

“This month is the worst. We can’t live like this anymore. We can’t sleep at night,” said Rochale Ronen, who manages a preschool for 52 children that is housed in the Sderot community center.

Tuesday morning, Ronen, 53, joined about 15 other residents and city workers at a makeshift barricade, formed by a municipal street sweeper and backhoe parked in the road, at one of the entrances to town.

The rocket attacks, carried out mainly by Islamic Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committees during the last year, have continued despite Israeli airstrikes and shelling from land and sea, which have killed numerous militants.

Sderot sits just two miles from the Gaza border, making it a handy target. Though many of the homemade rockets fall harmlessly into the open fields nearby, attacks on the town have killed five residents.

The situation has proved especially awkward for Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz, who lives in Sderot. Peretz has sought to calm his neighbors but was quoted in Israeli newspapers Tuesday as saying the military would soon step up unspecified actions. Israel has blamed Palestinian authorities for not moving to stop the attacks. Abbas on Tuesday urged militants halt the rocket fire out of concern that Israeli reprisals could harm Palestinian civilians.

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Times special correspondent Rushdie abu Alouf in Gaza City contributed to this report.


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