Israeli missile kills Hamas man on donkey cart
( 2003-08-29 09:16) (Agencies)
Israel killed a senior Hamas militant with a helicopter missile strike on a donkey cart he was riding Thursday after his radical Islamic faction fired a rocket into a large Israeli city for the first time.
The Hamas rocket that crashed into an industrial zone in the Israeli Mediterranean seaside city of Ashkelon, 5.5 miles north of Gaza's boundary, caused no casualties or damage.
But Israel suggested the attack crossed a "red line" threshold for escalating an offensive against Palestinian militant groups who called off a truce critical to a U.S.-backed peace plan aimed at ending almost three years of bloodshed.
"I think that it is clear that the heads of terrorist organizations Hamas and Islamic Jihad cannot feel secure any more on their way to the barber's shop, grocery store or mosque, and also on their way back. These people engage in terror, and therefore they are legitimate targets," deputy Israeli army chief of staff Maj. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi told army radio.
Palestinian bystanders collected parts of Kalakh's body from the ground, wrapped them in white cloth and carried them on a stretcher to a hospital in the Palestinian city of Khan Younis, in the south of the densely populated Gaza Strip. The donkey lay dead on the ground next to the smashed cart.
An Israeli army spokesman said Kalakh was eliminated as he was preparing to fire mortar bombs into the Jewish settlement bloc of Gush Khatif next to Khan Younis.
"Army helicopters thwarted an attempt by terrorists to fire mortars toward Gush Khatif. Hamdi Kalakh, a Hamas terrorist and explosive expert, was killed, an army spokesman told Reuters.
"We note a sharp rise in mortar fire at (settlements), more than 50 in the past six days," he added.
In Washington, the State Department said both sides had to act to advance the U.S. backed "road map" to peace which envisages a Palestinian state by 2005.
"We have to be clear that both sides need to do more to advance the process. But the main problem remains terror and violence, and the fact that there are still those who fail to understand that there will never be a viable Palestinian state built on terror," a spokesman told a news briefing.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said after the rocket crashed into an Ashkelon industrial zone that Israel's army would take "all necessary measures" to suppress Qassam attacks.
"Today (brought) another escalation in the terrorist activity of the Hamas movement when for the first time, they launched a rocket into a town in the southern part of the country, Ashkelon, making an effort to hit a strategic target that is one of our largest power stations," Sharon said.
In an initial response, five Israeli tanks, three troop carriers and two bulldozers swept into the northern Beit Hanoun area of Gaza and leveled foliage used as cover by Hamas men who launched the makeshift rocket into Ashkelon.
The armored unit, which operated in an area around 1,000 yards from a residential zone, withdrew later, according to an army spokesman.
The rocket strike into Ashkelon, a Mediterranean seaside city of 116,000 was the farthest a Qassam had been fired into Israel since a Palestinian uprising for statehood began in 2000.
Palestinian officials said Palestinian security forces had rushed to Beit Hanoun shortly after the rocket was fired to rein in Hamas militants responsible, preventing further launchings.
"There was a chase and a shootout," a Palestinian security official told Reuters shortly before Israel's incursion.
Islamic militants renounced a seven-week-old truce a week ago after Israel assassinated Hamas's second-ranking political leader, Ismail Abu Shanab, by destroying his car with a missile. That followed a suicide bombing that killed 21 in Jerusalem.
The "road map" requires Palestinians to end violence and Israel to pull back forces from occupied territory to pave the way for a Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank.
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