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 Friday, June 13, 2003

  Israel Launched THIRD strike in GAZA

Read HERE and HERE and HERE earlier postings on commentators' views on the Road Map, and HERE and HERE on predictions of Ariel Sharon's actions to scuttle the peace process.

The Guardian (UK) reports:

Israeli helicopters today fired missiles at a car in Gaza City, killing at least six people including a three-year-old girl, in the third such strike in the last 24 hours. Reuters reported that 40 people were injured in the attack.

Hamas said the car belonged to one of its activists. A leader of the Islamic militant group, Mahmoud Zahar, named those killed in the airstrike as Yasser Taha, a member of the Hamas military wing, Mr Taha's wife, and the couple's two small children. A baby bottle was among the items pulled from the burning car.

At the time of the strike, the streets were crowded with mourners who had attended the nearby funeral of 11 people killed in two previous missile strikes. This latest strike is the third attack launched by Israel after a Hamas suicide bomber yesterday killed 16 people on a crowded bus in Jerusalem.

Earlier today, Israeli helicopters fired rockets at another car carrying Hamas activists in Gaza. That strike killed two low-level Hamas activists, ages 22 and 24, from a unit that guards city streets.

The increase in violence - the Hamas bus bombing in Jerusalem and three Israeli air strikes - came just a week after the US president, George Bush, launched his road map for Middle East peace at a summit meeting in Jordan.

Earlier, Mr Bush had rebuked Mr Sharon for the attempted assassination of a Hamas founder, Abdel-Aziz al-Rantissi. Hamas vowed revenge after the rocket attack on Mr Rantissi's car claimed two lives and left its intended victim in hospital.

Hamas responded to the botched attack on Mr Rantissi yesterday afternoon, during evening rush hour on Jaffa Street, Jerusalem's main thoroughfare. An 18-year-old high school student from Hebron, Abdel Madi Shabneh, disguised as an ultra-Orthodox Jew, boarded city bus number 14 just after it left the nearby central bus station. Shabneh detonated the explosives strapped to his body just as the bus reached Mahane Yehuda, the city's large outdoor market. The blast lifted the bus off the pavement and tore up the roof and sides. Several passengers were hurled outside. The bomber killed 16 people and left more than 100 people injured.

Less than an hour later, Israeli helicopters targeted two members of the Hamas military wing as they drove in the crowded market area of a Gaza City neighbourhood. The two were killed in a ball of fire, and witnesses said more missiles were fired as hundreds of bystanders ringed the burning vehicle. Six more people were killed and 35 wounded by the second volley.

Mr Sharon declared that though he is committed to negotiating a peace deal, his army would pursue violent Palestinian groups without letup. "The state of Israel will continue to pursue the Palestinian terror organisations and their leaders to the bitter end." he said late yesterday.

In responding to US criticism to the attempt on Mr Rantissi's life, Mr Sharon has said that despite his commitment to the peace plan, he never promised Washington to halt his campaign against militants.

Mr Abbas' position has been shaky from the start and has been further undermined by Israel's renewed campaign against militants.

At the same time, Hamas rebuffed Mr Abbas' initial truce proposal even before the attack on Mr Rantissi.

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