JERUSALEM -- An Israeli air attack yesterday on a car carrying militants in the Gaza Strip killed a Palestinian teenager and two children and wounded at least a dozen other bystanders, Palestinian medical officials said.
The Israeli military said the strike, next to the village of Jabaliya on the northern edge of Gaza City, targeted members of Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a militia tied to the Fatah movement of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The members escaped the car shortly before the missile hit, the group said.
Israel said the airstrike came in response to persistent Kassam rocket attacks into Israel by Palestinian militants. The army expressed regret for any civilian casualties that may have occurred.
"It's terrible when civilians are caught in the middle of this, especially children," said Capt. Noa Meir, an Israeli army spokeswoman. "But the responsibility for this lies with the terrorist organizations that operate within heavily populated civilian areas and also with the Palestinian government, which is not doing anything to stop these rocket attacks."
The latest civilian fatalities come a week after an Israeli air attack against Gaza militants carrying a Katyusha rocket killed 11 people, nine of them civilians. That strike further inflamed passions in the Gaza Strip, where officials had blamed Israeli artillery for a June 9 explosion on a beach that killed eight civilians. Israel later said an investigation by its military concluded that it was not responsible for the beach blast.
Yesterday's airstrike came as the southern Israeli town of Sderot temporarily shut itself down to protest the government's inability to halt Palestinian rockets.
Sderot's 25,000 residents have long complained of the rocket attacks; local officials say their town has come under fire 1,089 times since 2001.
Thirty-four Kassams have landed in the Sderot area so far in June, more than twice the number for the same month last year.