Four Palestinians killed in Israeli air raids
* Two Hamas men among the dead
GAZA CITY: At least four Palestinians were killed on Saturday in an Israeli air strike in an eastern district of Gaza City, medical sources and the Palestinian Interior Ministry said.
Witnesses said two of those killed were members of the armed wing of Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas who were driving in two cars when a helicopter fired two missiles, one ploughing into each vehicle.
Hamas sources named one of the victims as 17-year-old Rwad Farhad, a member of its armed wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades.
Doctor Mouawiya Hassanein, head of emergency services in the Gaza Strip, said that four people were killed in the incident, which happened near the former Jewish settlement of Netzarim. Two of the dead were transferred to hospital, but Hassanein said the bodies of another two victims were torn to pieces in the blast.
Palestinian Interior Ministry spokesman Tawiq Abu Khossa confirmed there had been an Israeli air raid, however, there was no immediate comment from the Israeli military.
Israel launched air strikes in the Gaza Strip in response to Palestinian rocket attacks.
Israeli forces had massed near the border with the strip, from which they withdrew on September 12 after 38 years of occupation, and Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz had promised a harsh response to rocket attacks on the Jewish state by Palestinian militants.
The upsurge in violence was a blow to international hopes that the pullout could revive peacemaking. It was also unlikely to help Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ahead of a key vote in his Likud party next week, in which he faces a challenge from right-wing opponents who have said giving up Gaza would bring more bloodshed.
Militants fired a barrage of rockets into Israel after an explosion at a Hamas rally killed 15 people and after Israeli troops killed three gunmen in a West Bank raid. Hamas blamed Israel for the blast, although the Palestinian Authority said it appeared to have been an accident caused by Hamas members carrying explosives in an area packed with people.
Israeli aircraft struck back after the rocket attacks, which wounded five Israelis. The army said it targeted weapons factories and a rocket-launching site. One Hamas militant was slightly wounded. Mofaz was quoted on Army Radio as saying Israel was weighing the possibility of a ground offensive into the Gaza Strip, scene of some of the worst fighting during a Palestinian uprising since 2000.
Hamas vowed to resist any raid into Gaza and called for attacks on Israel. The group has largely followed a truce that President Mahmoud Abbas agreed with Israel in February and which helped smooth the pullout from Gaza. The military wing of Hamas said it was “time to strike with all our might”.
“Whoever plants horror and death among our Palestinian people will only harvest bitter death and horror in their cities and streets,” said the statement from the group. The army sealed off the West Bank and Gaza on Saturday, denying entry to the few thousand Palestinians allowed working in Israel. agencies