Soldiers kill six as Gaza explodes

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SIX Palestinians were shot dead by Israeli troops during demonstrations in the Gaza Strip yesterday against the deportation of more than 400 suspected Muslim fundamentalists to Lebanon. Among the dead were a 10-year- old girl and an ambulance driver.

Eyewitnesses said ground troops and soldiers in helicopters opened fire on rioters in the southern Gaza town of Chan Younis and a neighbouring refugee camp. The deaths look certain to spark more violence as anger mounts among Palestinians over the deportations last Thursday of suspected supporters of Hamas, the Islamic resistance movement which murdered a kidnapped Israeli border guard.

Pressure has been building up in Gaza's refugee camps, where 700,000 Palestinians have lived under curfew for the past 10 days. Yesterday afternoon Israel lifted the curfew - for two hours and for women only - to allow families to buy food.

As soon as the curfew was lifted pent-up anger erupted. 'Palestinians attacked any Israeli targets they could see - jeeps and military buildings. Then they attacked soldiers,' said Saud Ramadan, a Palestinian journalist. Mr Ramadan said there was hand-to-hand fighting between protesters and soldiers.

Three military helicopters then swooped down to give back-up and live ammunition was used on the crowd with no warning and no prior use of teargas or smoke bombs. 'The scenes in the hospital were shocking as families came to find bodies. There was blood everywhere,' said Mr Ramadan.

The protesters shouted support for Hamas as they rampaged through the streets before the curfew was re-imposed.

The violence broke out as the 418 deportees prepared to spend a second night in exile in no man's land in Lebanon. The United Nations has condemned the deportations, but Israel's Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, said last night he was standing firm and the deportees would not be allowed back.

Raising the stakes, page 11