Tue, Jun 29, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Rockets from Gaza kill 2 Israelis

VIOLENCE It's common for Israeli towns to be hit by makeshift rockets fired from Gaza, but yesterday marked the first time that people have been killed as a result


Israeli women in the town of Sderot cry near a kindergarten where a Palestinian rocket killed two, yesterday.


Yesterday, for the first time, Palestinian rockets fired from the Gaza Strip killed people in Israel, a three-year-old boy and a man, in a deadly battle of wills in anticipation of an Israeli pullout.

A strong Israeli military response appeared likely after two rockets slammed into the southern town of Sderot some 12 hours after militants blew up an army post in the Gaza Strip, killing one soldier and wounding five others.

At least four Palestinians were also killed in the latest spiral of violence in the area, where Israel and militants have been locked in a fight to claim victory before implementation of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's Gaza pullout plan.

"An ambulance pulled up and there was a dead three-year-old boy inside," said a doctor at Soroka Hospital in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba, where Sderot casualties were taken.

Medical officials said a man, aged 50, was also killed and about a dozen people, including the boy's mother, were wounded. One of the rockets landed next to a kindergarten, but none of the children inside was hurt.

"I put the kids in my kindergarten into a shelter, and then I came running and saw the mother and son lying on the sidewalk on top of one another," said teacher Minnie Shoshan.

It was the first time makeshift rockets fired from Gaza, whose small payloads usually cause no serious injuries, had killed anyone in Israel. Sharon planned to hold security consultations later in the day, an official said.

"So far Sderot had been lucky in the Qassam [rocket] attacks, but that luck ran out today," Israeli cabinet minister Gideon Ezra told Israel Radio. The town has been hit by 10 rockets this year, the army said.

Izz el-Deen al-Qassam, the armed wing of the militant Hamas group, claimed responsibility for an attack that fueled worst-case scenarios in Israel of rockets slamming into its southern towns after a Gaza withdrawal.

"They [Israeli forces] should never leave Gaza. It would mean death for us," said Mira Zaaroum, a resident of Sderot, a working class town 1km from the border.

A senior Israeli official said Sharon was determined to press ahead with his plan to evacuate all 21 Jewish settlements in Gaza and four of the 120 in the West Bank.

"Terrorism will not dictate our political plans," the official said.

Avi Pazner, an Israeli government spokesman, said Israel would continue its efforts "to destroy the terrorist infrastructure, arrest those behind terrorist activities and harshly punish those who perpetrate these murderous activities."

Hamas and al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an armed group in Palestinian President Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction, both claimed responsibility for a Sunday explosion that destroyed the army post near the Gush Katif bloc of Jewish settlements.

They called it retaliation for Israel's assassination of two top Hamas leaders earlier this year and the killing of an al-Aqsa Brigades leader in the West Bank on Saturday.

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