Israel kills three with airstrikes



A Palestinian ambush killed three Israeli soldiers.
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) -- Israeli helicopters and warplanes launched three airstrikes at Gaza City neighborhoods within four hours today, killing two Hamas members and a bystander.
Twenty-three people, including four children and a 70-year-old woman, were wounded in the first two attacks, Palestinian hospital officials said. No one was immediately reported wounded in the third attack.
In that attack, Apache helicopters launched two missiles at a car. One hit the vehicle, destroying it, while the other landed unexploded in a nearby field. The car's passengers apparently fled before the missile hit, witnesses said.
That airstrike took place near the border with Israel, where Palestinian militants often launch mortar shells and homemade rockets into Israel. Smoke was billowing from the scene of the strike.
The strikes came a day after Palestinian militants fired a barrage of homemade rockets into southern Israel from Gaza. Also Sunday, a Palestinian ambush in the West Bank killed three Israeli soldiers and wounded a fourth.
Street scene
The Hamas members were traveling in a white pickup truck that was hit by two missiles fired by Israeli helicopters. Witnesses said the truck was spotted earlier in the day near the alleged weapons workshop targeted in the first airstrike in the Sajaiya neighborhood of Gaza City.
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 at the time. "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."
A Palestinian motorist also was killed in the attack. Palestinian hospital officials said 12 bystanders were wounded, four of them in serious condition.
The third airstrike also hit near the Sajaiya neighborhood, close to an area where mortar shells are often fired into Israel.
In the last three years of fighting, Israel has killed dozens of Palestinian militants in targeted attacks, including helicopter missile strikes.
Alleged rocket workshop
In the first airstrike, Israeli warplanes attacked a house under construction where the army said Hamas was making small rockets. Two masked men were later seen loading belongings into the white pickup that was then targeted by Israel.
The alleged weapons workshop was just 200 yards from the home of Islamic Jihad leader Abdullah Shami, who was not hurt.
Despite the proximity to Shami's home, the army said the weapons workshop was operated by the rival militant group Hamas.
"These weapons served Hamas to carry out attacks against Israel, among them Qassam rocket and mortal shell attacks, and attacks with anti-tank missiles and explosive devices," a statement said.
Hamas has fired dozens of Qassams, with a range of about six miles, at Israeli border towns and settlements in Gaza. On Sunday, at least eight rockets were fired into Israel, causing no injuries.
Doctors at Shifa hospital in Gaza said that 11 people were wounded in the first airstrike, including four children, one of them 2 years old. A 70-year-old woman was in critical condition, they said.
Shami told Al Manar TV that he was fine and was not at the house at the time of the attack. He said he doubts the house was a weapons factory, since it was still under construction.
Shami has not slept at home since an Islamic Jihad suicide bombing earlier this month that killed 21 Israelis in a restaurant in the port city of Haifa. In first retaliation for the Haifa bombing, Israel had attacked an alleged Islamic Jihad training base in Syria.
Islamic Jihad has carried out scores of attacks on Israelis, including suicide bombings.
3 soldiers killed
In the West Bank, an Israeli army foot patrol was attacked Sunday evening in the Palestinian village of Ein Yabrud, near the town of Ramallah, the military said. Three soldiers were killed, and another was seriously wounded, according to a statement.
The Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, loosely linked to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement, claimed responsibility for the shootings. Soldiers imposed a curfew on Ein Yabrud and searched for the attackers.
It was the first serious attack in the area since February 2002, when four Palestinian gunmen fired at an Israeli military checkpoint at nearby Ein Arik, killing six soldiers before escaping.
Report denied
Meanwhile, the Arab Liberation Front, a small Iraqi-backed faction, denied a report today that it might have been behind last week's attack on a U.S. diplomatic convoy in the Gaza Strip that killed three American security guards and wounded another.
The major Palestinian militant groups have denied involvement in the bombing. "We don't have any connection to this attack," said Ibrahim Zaaneen, a spokesman for the Arab Liberation Front.
The Arab Liberation Front has distributed millions of dollars given by deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to the families of suicide bombers and those killed in fighting with Israel.
An FBI team is investigating the attack, and Palestinian authorities have arrested seven members of a rogue militant group, the Popular Resistance Committees.
Israeli radio reported that the FBI team was in Gaza today. U.S. Embassy spokesman Paul Patin declined to comment on the report.
Patin confirmed that U.S. envoy John Wolf is not expected to return to the Middle East in the near future. Wolf, who returned to the United States in September, was overseeing U.S. efforts to get Israel and the Palestinians to implement the so-called "road map" plan for the cessation of violence and the establishment of a Palestinian state by 2005.
Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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