- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 30, 2003

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Israel killed a leading Hamas militant and his assistant in a helicopter missile strike yesterday, the latest in a series of attacks that have sent militants into hiding and left a U.S.-backed “road map” peace plan in tatters.

Israeli troops also killed an 8-year-old girl and wounded seven other Palestinians with submachine gun fire in the Gaza Strip’s Khan Younis refugee camp, witnesses and hospital officials said. The girl, Aya Fayad, was shot in the chest by soldiers firing at the camp from a nearby military base.

Soldiers fired at an area where Palestinian militants were detonating roadside bombs on a patrol route, the army said.

The strikes, coupled with a Jerusalem suicide bus bombing on Aug. 19 that killed 21, destroyed a cease-fire declared by militant groups June 29 and have seriously jeopardized the peace plan toward Palestinian statehood.

In yesterday’s attack, the Israeli helicopters fired four missiles at a pickup truck carrying the two Palestinian men, witnesses said. It was the fifth Israeli missile strike aimed at Hamas militants in 10 days.

The vehicle had been moving slowly in traffic when it was hit and burst into flames, witnesses said. Rescue workers rushed to remove the bodies, including one that was badly burned and missing a leg. Two bystanders also were wounded.

“A missile came and hit the car from the front, followed by another two. I saw one of the men inside the car jump out the window, but another missile hit him,” said Balal, 35, a witness who gave only his first name.

The two were identified as Abdullah Akel, 37, and his assistant, Farid Mayet, 40, both members of the Hamas military wing, Izzedine al-Qassam.

Mr. Akel, a leading field commander in central Gaza, had fired mortar shells and homemade Qassam rockets at Israeli towns and Jewish settlements, and was preparing to fire more rockets when he was killed, the army said. Israel had jailed him for his membership in Hamas during the first Palestinian uprising, between 1987 and 1993.

Waving green Hamas banners and calling for revenge, some 5,000 Palestinians marched through the Nusseirat and Bureij refugee camps in a funeral procession for the two men.

An armed Hamas member told mourners that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon “will soon receive a very painful message from the Hamas military wing in retaliation for his crimes against the Palestinian people.”

Since the bus bombing, Israel has killed 10 Hamas militants including the two yesterday. Hamas issued leaflets after Israel’s initial missile strikes this month urging members to wear disguises and move about less frequently to avoid becoming targets. Hamas leaders have turned off their cell phones and largely stopped appearing at public events.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas has said Israel’s missile strikes make it virtually impossible for him to crack down on militant groups.

His power is rapidly dissipating amid the escalating violence and stalled talks. Yesterday, dozens of armed men loyal to Yasser Arafat turned out in the Gaza Strip to block the appointment of an official to replace one of Mr. Arafat’s staunch supporters.

Sakher Basseso, governor of the northern Gaza Strip, was chosen by the Cabinet Wednesday to take over as chairman of the body in charge of 70,000 civil servants, but didn’t show up. And the current head of the General Personnel Council, Arafat backer Mohammed Abu Sharia, refused to go.

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