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Six Palestinians killed in Gaza air strikes
Updated: 2004-10-25 15:18

Israel killed six Palestinians in air strikes late on Sunday and early Monday during a raid on a militant stronghold in southern Gaza, medics and witnesses said.

Witnesses said pilotless aircraft fired five missiles at Palestinian targets in the southern town of Khan Younis, killing six people and wounding 16.

The strikes came as troops backed by tanks raided Khan Younis to prevent mortar attacks on Jewish settlements in the Gush Katif area.

Another four Palestinians were wounded by a tank shell shortly after the early Monday air strike, medics said.

Israel began its raid in Gaza late on Sunday evening, hours after the Israeli cabinet approved details of a plan to withdraw Jewish settlers from the coastal strip next year.

The plan was to be presented to Israel's parliament for debate on Monday. Ratification was expected on Tuesday.

Violence has soared in anticipation of the withdrawal, with Israel determined to smash militants beforehand, and the militants firing rockets and mortars at Israelis in a bid to claim the pullout as a victory.

Late on Sunday night, about two dozen tanks rolled into the western edges of the Khan Younis refugee camp, bulldozing farmland and damaging some houses, witnesses said.

Israeli media reported repeated exchanges of fire between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian gunmen in the camp.

The Israeli army said soldiers had fired pre-emptively at militants as they approached troops.

The early Monday air strike targeted Palestinians near a cemetery, witnesses said. Medics said one Palestinian was killed and two were in critical condition as each had lost a limb in the attack.

An Israeli military source said soldiers had opened fire on gunmen carrying a bomb and hit at least two.

A military spokesman said the raid was in response to the firing of 28 mortar bombs at Jewish settlements at the weekend. No casualties were reported from the mortar attacks.

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