Thu, Oct 23, 2003 - Page 7 News List

Israel kills two more in West Bank raid

CONFLICTING VERSIONS While thousands of Palestinian mourners call for revenge, Israel insists that a deadly air attack in Gaza the previous day was aimed at militants

AP , JERUSALEM

A man pulls a burning object after Israeli forces entered the West Bank city of Ramallah on Tuesday night. Nine Palestinians were wounded, one seriously, when around 40 Israeli army jeeps and armored trucks stormed into the town.

PHOTO: AFP

Israeli troops shot and killed two suspected Palestinian militants in the West Bank yesterday, a day after Palestinians in Gaza buried seven people killed in a deadly air attack.

The Israeli military and Palestinian witnesses offered conflicting versions of the strike in Gaza as thousands of mourners called for revenge for the deaths of those killed in the attack.

Palestinians said on Tuesday that the seven dead, including an 11-year-old boy, were all civilians killed by an Israeli missile fired into a crowd at the Nusseirat refugee camp the night before. The army said militants and some civilians had been struck and released a video indicating there was no one on the street near the vehicle targeted in the attack.

The air strikes revived debate inside Israel over targeted killings in populated areas, and the Palestinian prime minister, in a rare criticism of Washington, complained that the US was doing nothing to stop what he said are Israel's "ugly crimes."

Brigadier General Ruth Yaron, the army spokeswoman, acknowledged there were civilian casualties, but added that "there is no doubt that the majority of those killed yesterday were terrorists." She held the militants ultimately responsible, saying they were using bystanders as human shields.

In the West Bank the army shot and killed two Palestinian militants during pre-dawn arrest raids yesterday, one in Hebron and one in Qalqiliya, the army said.

In both cases the army said the men were shot after trying to flee. Troops arrested 18 other Palestinians in the raids.

In Nusseirat, the flag-wrapped bodies of the seven Palestinians were carried on stretchers through the shantytown on Tuesday.

"Sharon, wait, wait, you have opened hell's gate," the crowd chanted in a threat of revenge.

There were conflicting versions of the Nusseirat air strike.

The Israeli military said helicopters fired two missiles at a car carrying Hamas militants, and that two men inside were killed.

It said the helicopters chased the car after the men had dropped off two other militants near the border with Israel. Those attackers, who were killed by Israeli ground troops, were on their way to carry out suicide bombings inside Israel, the army said.

The army released a video showing two missiles hitting the car about a minute apart after a brief chase. No one appeared to be near the vehicle at the time of the missile strikes, which were about one minute apart.

"We didn't see any massive gathering of people. We will not allow munitions to be launched when there is a massive gathering of people," said a senior air force officer, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The grainy video showed a crowd gathering around the car about two minutes after the second strike, and the video ended some 40 seconds later. The military said an additional 10 minutes were recorded but didn't release the additional footage.

A statement by Palestinian security said there were three missile hits, and those killed were struck by shrapnel from a missile fired after they had gathered near the vehicle.

Some witnesses said militants were able to flee the car after the first missile hit -- which the video appeared to show caused only minor damage. The second missile caused more serious harm and, Israeli officials said, killed the militants inside.

But Palestinians said all of those killed were bystanders. They included an 11-year-old boy and a doctor who had rushed to the scene to treat the wounded. Some 70 people were injured, according to Palestinian medical officials.

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