Israeli missile kills 2 militant leaders

Attack is part of offensive announced last week

November 02, 2005|By LAURA KING | LAURA KING,LOS ANGELES TIMES

JERUSALEM -- Widening its confrontation with Palestinian militant groups, Israel staged a missile strike yesterday in the northern Gaza Strip that killed a commander of Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade and a senior Hamas operative.

Hamas, which until now had stayed on the sidelines of a continuing blood feud between Israel and another militant faction, Islamic Jihad, vowed it would take revenge. So did the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, which claims loyalty to the Palestinian Authority's ruling Fatah movement.

Israel declared a broad offensive last week against Palestinian militants after a suicide bombing carried out by Islamic Jihad killed five Israelis in an open-air market in northern Israel. In the past week, Israeli forces have killed 13 Palestinians, about two-thirds of them combatants who for the most part were from Islamic Jihad.

The flare-up of violence has clouded prospects for a resumption of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians in the wake of Israel's withdrawal of troops and Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip, which was completed last month.

Palestinian militant spokesmen and the Israeli military identified the two men slain in yesterday's missile strike as Hassan Madhoun, a senior commander for Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade in northern Gaza, and Fawzi Karah, a local leader of Hamas' armed wing. Both lived in the Jabaliya refugee camp north of Gaza City, where the missile attack took place.

The army said in a statement that Madhoun, whom it blamed for masterminding attacks that had killed at least 20 Israelis, was the intended target of the strike.

Among the attacks or attempted attacks in which Madhoun was implicated was a notorious case this year in which a Palestinian female medical patient was recruited as a suicide bomber. Israeli troops arrested the woman with an explosives belt as she tried to cross from Gaza into Israel, and she confessed to having been ordered to blow herself up at the Israeli hospital where she had been receiving treatment. The case aroused widespread outrage in Israel.

Mahdoun also played a role in a suicide bombing at the Israeli port of Ashdod last year that killed 10 Israelis, the army said.

In yesterday's missile strike, a pilotless drone fired on a car in which the two men were riding, incinerating the vehicle and killing them instantly. At least a half-dozen bystanders were injured.

The attack took place about 5 p.m., as the narrow alleyways of the Jabaliya camp were packed with people shopping for their iftar, the fast-breaking evening meal taken during the holy month of Ramadan.

A motorcade carrying Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas passed the site a short time before the strike, Palestinian officials said.

The Palestinian Authority has condemned the militant groups for firing rockets toward Israel from Gaza and staging other attacks but also has been sharply critical of the continuing Israeli offensive. The Palestinians' chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, likened yesterday's strike to pouring fuel on a fire.

Hamas, Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade and Islamic Jihad issued statements saying the killings would bring bloody reprisals.

Laura King writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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