Sat, Jun 14, 2008 - Page 6 News List

Explosion flattens house in Gaza Strip, kills seven

AP AND AFP , JERUSALEM AND BEIT LAHIYA, GAZA STRIP

A powerful explosion flattened a house in the northern Gaza Strip on Thursday, killing seven people, including an infant girl and a Hamas official. After blaming Israel and unleashing a barrage of rockets and mortars, Hamas indicated the blast was accidental, not an Israeli attack.

By then Israel had carried out an air strike aimed at a Gaza rocket squad, killing a Palestinian. The violence threatened to scuttle Egyptian ceasefire efforts as they approached the finish line.

A key Israeli envoy, Amos Gilad, returned from Egypt late on Thursday without a deal, Israeli officials said. Gilad told the mediators that Israel wants progress toward freeing a soldier captured by Hamas two years ago, as well as Egyptian commitments about stopping Hamas arms smuggling across their border, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the contacts are not public.

While the talks were going on in Egypt, 13 Palestinians were killed on Thursday.

The blast at the house shook the town of Beit Lahiya in northern Gaza, about 2km from the Israeli border.

Ambulances rushed to the scene and residents of nearby homes brought shovels and bulldozers to help dig people out. Three people covered in blood were carried out on stretchers and hurried into ambulances that sped them away to the local hospital.

Hamas said four people were killed — Hassan Abu Shakfa, a senior aide to the Hamas interior minister, another man, a four-month-old girl and a Hamas militant who died of his injuries. Hours later, rescue workers dug three more bodies out of the rubble. Hamas officials said five of the dead were militants.

The owner of the house, Hamas area commander Ahmed Hamouda, was not there at the time of the explosion.

Major Avital Leibovich, an Israeli army spokeswoman, said the military was not operating in the area at the time.

“We deny any connection to this incident,” she said.

Announcing an investigation of the blast, Hamas spokesman Abu Obeida said results would be made public. The statement was taken as a Hamas acknowledgment that the blast was probably accidental.

Meanwhile, an Israeli planning body has given the green light for 1,300 new homes for Jewish settlers to be built in occupied and annexed east Jerusalem, the Haaretz newspaper reported yesterday.

The houses will be built in Ramat Shlomo in the northern part of the Holy City, it said.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat expressed outrage.

“We firmly condemn this project which reveals the Israeli government’s intention to destroy peace,” Erakat said.

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