- At least ten Palestinians were killed and nearly 100
injured in the Gaza Strip last night during the heaviest air strikes of
- In a dramatic escalation of the conflict, five Israeli
air raids were launched during a 12-hour period, including a missile strike
on a crowded road after dark. The majority of the casualties were civilians.
- The Palestinian Authority immediately condemned the strikes
and called for a ceasefire to stem the spiralling number of attacks.
- The air strikes followed an ambush by gunmen in the West
Bank in which three Israeli soldiers were killed and came only one day
after the launch of eight makeshift rockets from Gaza into southern Israel.
- As the violence continued into the night, President Ariel
Sharon renewed his government's threats to expel the Palestinian leader
Yasser Arafat. He told the Israeli parliament: "This man is the biggest
obstacle to peace and therefore Israel is determined to bring about his
removal from the political arena."
- Saeb Erekat, a Palestinian cabinet minister, accused
Mr Sharon of undermining the peace process by plotting to reoccupy Gaza.
"Most of those killed are civilians. It's the bloodiest and most dangerous
escalation in years," warned Mr Erekat.
- The first air strike took place at 8.15am. At least two
civilians, a mother and her adult daughter, were injured when missiles
hit a half-built house the Israeli military claimed was used as a base
to make rockets. Two neighbouring houses were destroyed and more than 30
people were left homeless.
- The second air strike took place less than three hours
later at a nearby petrol station when a pick-up truck in which two Hamas
militants were travelling was hit. One of the dead men was identified as
Khaled al-Masri. Israel claimed the men had loaded the vehicle with weapons
from the house that was the target of the first attack. At least one bystander
- In the third attack, a hut in a citrus grove was destroyed,
but there were claims that a car was the target.
- In the fourth air strike, medics said seven people were
killed, and 35 wounded, when Israeli helicopters fired at a car in the
Nusseirat refugee camp in central Gaza. It was the bloodiest attack since
a missile raid on a Hamas leader in Gaza City killed nine people in April.
- A fifth air strike was launched late last night just
outside Gaza City. Three people were reported injured.
- Nasser Matar described the second Israeli attack on the
pick-up truck. He was about to fill up a car at the petrol station, when
missiles exploded a few metres away. Mr Matar said he had heard nothing
suspicious before the attack. There were radio reports that helicopters
were over Gaza, but they did not hear the sound of the rotor blades. There
were people walking in the street, including schoolchildren going to classes.
- "There was a Peugeot pick-up stopped at the red
light," Mr Matar said. The traffic lights were a few feet from the
fuel storage for the station. "I heard an explosion. Fire shot out
of the Peugeot. We have three fire extinguishers here, and we put out the
fire. There is a lot of fuel here. If the fire extended we would have a
terrible situation." The owner of the petrol station and two employees
were hit by shrapnel.
- Israel claims its assassinations of militants prevent
suicide bombings. But Mr Matar said: "This is terrorism. Their intention
is to make us panic. To terrorise us.
- "Look, I am still shaking. I have two children,
one is five, the other seven. If I am killed who will feed them? I never
supported the suicide bombings. I always believed targeting civilians was
not good. But now I support them."
- In the first air strike yesterday, there were reports
of as many as 23 injured. These included 54-year-old Ihsan Bulbul, and
her 33-year-old daughter, Iman, both hit by shrapnel that flew straight
through the house between theirs and the targeted building, and landed
in their kitchen.
- But the casualties could have been far worse: a piece
of concrete lay in a cradle in the family house; Na'ima Bulbul had snatched
her 18-month-old baby out of the cradle when she heard the missile.
- Next door, Huda al-Widiyeh managed to scramble out of
bed before several pieces of concrete fell through the roof. The house
that was the target was, the Israelis claimed, used by militants to make
Qassem rockets. The local Palestinians denied it.
- © 2003 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd