- The Washington Times - Friday, September 27, 2002

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip Israel tried to kill the man it accuses of masterminding the Hamas bombing campaign yesterday, firing two missiles into a car in crowded Gaza City. Two bodyguards died and 35 bystanders were wounded in the helicopter attack, but the fate of the Palestinian militant was not certain. Hamas promised revenge.

More than a dozen children were wounded in the attack, the latest in a series of assaults the Israeli military calls "targeted killings" of Palestinians.

In the past two years, at least 78 wanted Palestinians and 52 bystanders have been killed in such attacks, which the Palestinians deride as a policy of assassination.

A senior Palestinian security official said the 37-year-old Mohammed Deif escaped yesterday's attack with moderate injuries. Israeli police sources said the Israeli military told them that Mr. Deif atop Israel's wanted list for years was killed. The military had no public comment.

Hamas official Abdel Aziz Rantisi said Mr. Deif was not in the car. But he said the group would avenge the attack nevertheless. "We will hit Tel Aviv. We will hit everywhere."

In other violence, four Palestinians two gunmen, a civilian and a baby and one Israeli were reported killed. Israel maintained its siege of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's headquarters in the West Bank town of Ramallah in defiance of Tuesday's U.N. Security Council resolution to end the operation.

Two helicopters appeared in the sky over Gaza just after 1:30 p.m., firing missiles that blew apart a green Mercedes sedan and sent a plume of white smoke over the Sheik Radwan neighborhood.

"Suddenly, we heard the sound of a big explosion," said Mohammed Hajar, a hairdresser working in the area. "When I ran out, a second explosion took place."

Blood, body parts and shrapnel were strewn across a wide area, and nearby windows were shattered. A large crowd, confused and angry, gathered as rescue workers led the wounded to ambulances.

One man leapt on a car and shouted, "God is great."

Hamas sources identified the two dead men as members of Hamas, Abdel Rahim Hamdan, 27, and Issa Abu Ajra, 29.

Mr. Rantisi said they were Mr. Deif's bodyguards.

Israelis accuse Mr. Deif of having a role in dozens of suicide attacks during the past six years. He survived an Israeli air strike earlier this year.

Palestinian officials arrested and held Mr. Deif for several months until December 2000. The Palestinians said he escaped. Israeli officials said his jailers set him free.

Late yesterday, about 3,000 Hamas supporters demonstrated near the site of the attack. Organizers said the purpose was to give thanks for Mr. Deif's safety.

In other developments:

•In the West Bank town of Jenin, a 52-year-old civilian was fatally shot when he opened his bedroom window during an Israeli military operation, the man's son said. The army had no comment.

•Four Israelis, a mother and her three children one a month-old infant were wounded in a shooting attack on their car south of Hebron in the West Bank, Israeli police and rescue workers said. Earlier, a doctor said a 14-month-old Palestinian died in Hebron, apparently overcome by tear gas that Israeli soldiers fired into a market to reimpose a curfew.

•In the Gaza Strip, the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, linked to Mr. Arafat's Fatah movement, claimed responsibility for an attempted infiltration into the Elei Sinai Jewish settlement early yesterday. One gunman was killed by soldiers, the army said.

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