Sun, May 16, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Israel tries to kill Islamic Jihad leader in Gaza raid

GAZA RAIDS Having lost 13 men in a week, the Israeli army sought payback by attacking the offices of Mohammed al-Hindi, but Hindi remained safe in hiding


Israeli helicopter gunships attacked targets in Gaza City yesterday in an apparent attempt to assassinate a top leader of Islamic Jihad after Palestinian militants killed 13 soldiers this week.

Islamic Jihad officials said four missiles hit a building housing Mohammed al-Hindi's office but that he was safely in hiding. The presumed attempt on his life drew vows of "earthquake-like" revenge attacks against the Jewish state.

The air raid -- which the Israeli army said targeted nerve centers of "terrorist activity" in Gaza -- followed Israel's assassinations of the two senior Hamas leaders in recent weeks and threats to keep striking at the militants' upper echelons.

The missile barrage came hours after two Israeli soldiers were killed by Hamas militants in a refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip in the latest in a series of ambushes that has dealt the Middle East's mightiest army its worst blow in two years.

The army quit Rafah camp at dawn yesterday, saying efforts to collect the soldiers' remains for burial had been completed.

Polls showed deepening support in Israel for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's Gaza pullout plan, now stalled by hardliners in his own rightist party, as this week's losses reminded Israelis of the high cost of the hard-to-defend Gaza settlements.

The Gaza clashes also raised concern among Israeli top brass that Palestinians have adopted tactics Hizbollah fighters used to hound Israel from its south Lebanon occupation zone in 2000.

Sworn to Israel's destruction, Hamas and Islamic Jihad are the driving force behind suicide bombings that have killed hundreds of Israelis during three and a half years of conflict.

Hamas claimed responsibility for killing six soldiers in a troop carrier on Tuesday during a raid in Gaza City, and Islamic Jihad said it was behind a similar bombing that killed five servicemen on Wednesday.

Israel killed 28 Palestinians, including civilians, during four days of fierce fighting in the Gaza Strip.

Medics said 13 people were wounded in multiple air strikes in densely populated Gaza City in the early morning hours.

"We will respond to the cowardly attempt on the life of our leader by punishing the Zionist enemies," Islamic Jihad official Khader Habib told Reuters. "There will be an earthquake-like response that will shatter the Zionist entity."

Helicopters first struck an Islamic seminary where Hindi worked, demolishing his office, which was empty at the time, witnesses said.

Minutes later, missiles hit a building housing what Palestinians said was a Jihad-linked group that supports families of those who have killed or been killed in the conflict with Israel.

The army declined to say whether Hindi -- a 50-year-old physician who has lived underground for his own safety in recent months -- had been targeted. But a military source called him "the unquestioned head of Islamic Jihad's terrorist operations".

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