- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 16, 2003

JERUSALEM A roadside bomb in the Gaza Strip turned a passing Israeli army tank into a fireball yesterday, wiping out its four-man crew in an attack claimed by the militant Palestinian Islamic group Hamas.
The blast from the 220-pound device detonated the U.S.-made Patton tank's fuel and ammunition, setting the vehicle ablaze, the military said.
"The effect of the explosion was deadly," regional army commander Maj. Gen. Doron Almog told reporters. "Ammunition exploded; a huge fire broke out."
In a statement faxed to news agencies, Hamas said the bombing was revenge for the deaths of two of its activists who were killed in the same vicinity in a clash with Israeli troops earlier this week.
The attack, near the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Lahia, occurred yesterday morning, but the Israeli military censor delayed publication for nearly 10 hours, until relatives were informed.
Palestinians in Gaza said they saw black smoke rising from the tank. Soldiers with hoses tried to douse the flames as Israeli helicopters hovered above, witnesses said.
Gen. Almog said rescue efforts were hampered by the fire that engulfed the tank and the muddy terrain. It was the fourth fatal attack on an Israeli tank in the past year and brought to 11 the number of soldiers killed in such incidents. The blast yesterday was the first in which an entire crew was lost, Gen. Almog said.
Shortly after the incident, Israeli army bulldozers moved into the area and demolished three Palestinian homes after evicting their occupants, witnesses said. The army said the buildings were used by the attackers for cover while they planted and set off the bomb.
Despite the latest bloodshed, Palestinian officials said Palestinian Interior Minister Hani el Hassan and Finance Minister Salam Fayyad were expected to meet soon with Dov Weisglass, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's chief of staff, for renewed talks intended to reach a cease-fire between the two sides.
Israeli officials could not be reached immediately for comment, but Israeli radio said the meeting would take place in the coming week. Palestinians said other Palestinian ministers would fly to London tomorrow for talks with diplomats on reforming the Palestinian administration.
Under heavy pressure from the European Union and the other members of the so-called Quartet of peacekeeping nations the United States, Russia and the United Nations Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat announced Friday that he would appoint a prime minister, a step the Quartet and Israel consider vital to improving peace prospects.
Mr. Arafat, however, did not say how much power he plans to share, who the prime minister will be or when the appointment will take place.

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