Israeli missiles kill militant in Gaza Strip

Region targeted for second night in a row


JERUSALEM -- For the second night in a row, Israel targeted missiles yesterday at Palestinian militants in the northern Gaza Strip.

Majid Matat, a field operative for the Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, was killed when two missiles fired by Israeli aircraft incinerated his white Subaru just after dusk near the town of Beit Hanoun, according to Palestinian officials and witnesses. Two of his comrades escaped.

Matat and his companions had just fired a homemade rocket toward Israel, using an open field as a launching ground, and were driving back toward Gaza City when the strike occurred, according to Palestinian security sources.

The attack came less than 24 hours after Israeli missiles hit a car carrying members of the Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad as it was traveling through the Jabaliya refugee camp. Eight people were killed, including a senior Islamic Jihad commander, at least two of his associates and several bystanders, according to Palestinian officials and the Israeli army.

Israel declared an all-out campaign against Islamic Jihad after the group claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing Wednesday in the northern Israeli town of Hadera, which killed five Israelis. But it has said other Palestinian militants will be targeted as well, particularly if they are planning or carrying out attacks.

The Hadera bombing came a day after Israel killed an Islamic Jihad commander in the northern West Bank town of Tulkarm during what the army described as an arrest raid.

The week's events have cast a heavy pall over hopes the two sides might return to the bargaining table in the wake of Israel's withdrawal of soldiers and settlers from the Gaza Strip, completed last month.

Underscoring the pessimistic mood, Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz spoke in an interview with an Israeli newspaper of a "governmental vacuum" in the Palestinian Authority.

Thousands of mourners packed the streets of Gaza yesterday for the funeral of Shadi Mohanna, the Islamic Jihad commander who was killed in Thursday's missile strike. This was the last Friday of the holy month of Ramadan, and the mood was one of seething anger. Shouts of "death to Israel" rang out from the crowd.

In between missile strikes, Israeli warplanes have been setting off repeated sonic booms over Gaza City, sending terrified Palestinian civilians scurrying for cover several times a day.

In recent months, senior Israeli officials have used increasingly derogatory terms to refer to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, but Mofaz's comments, published yesterday in Yediot Aharonot, were among the most scathing yet.

"Abu Mazen is a one-man show," the newspaper quoted Mofaz as saying, using the nickname by which Abbas is widely known. "There is no one to talk to. ... The Palestinian Authority is not an address for us."

Laura King writes for the Los Angeles Times

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