Palestinian activist survives Israeli helicopters strike

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The Independent Online

Israeli helicopters fired missiles on a car and wounded four Palestinians on Thursday, but for the second day in a row the intended Palestinian target survived an Israeli air strike.

The Israeli helicopters unleashed a pair of missiles on the car carrying Jihad al­Mussaimi, a leading member of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement in the West Bank city of Nablus.

The first missile hit the ground in front of the car, spraying the vehicle with shrapnel. Al­Mussaimi, who suffered injuries to his right leg, said he managed to jump out before the second missile hit the car.

Al­Mussaimi was one of two people in the car who were hurt, and two people on the street were also injured, doctors at Rafidia Hospital said. All suffered medium to light injuries, the doctors said.

The Israeli military said it carried out the attack against a "very senior terrorist with a lot of Israeli blood on his hands."

Al­Mussaimi was previously a senior police official in Nablus and was regarded as a senior Fatah activist in Nablus, Palestinians said.

"It is a failed Israeli assassination attempt," said Issam Abu Baker, another Fatah leader in Nablus.

Also on Thursday, Palestinian militants fired mortars at a Jewish settlement in the Gaza Strip, but no one was hurt. Israeli responded by sending two tanks into the Palestinian town of Deir el­Balah and firing shells on a Palestinian security outpost, witnesses said.

Four Palestinians were wounded by Israeli fire, and seven were hurt in car accidents as they tried to flee, hospital doctors said.

Israeli tanks have frequently entered Palestinian territory during the past 11 months months of fighting, but Thursday's incursion marked one of the rare occasions the tanks have moved onto a main road in a town.

The tanks reached a residential area, but withdrew shortly after firing on the security outpost, witnesses said.

Israel's air strike on Thursday came a day after Israeli helicopters targeted leading militants of the militant Hamas movement in the Gaza Strip, killing one man, but missing those they were after.

The helicopters hit two vehicles with four missiles near the Bourej refugee camp south of Gaza City, killing Bilal al­Ghoul, 21, an activist in the Tanzim militia, which is linked to Arafat.

But the real targets were al­Ghoul's father, Adnan, and Mohammed Deif, both senior figures in Hamas, Palestinians said.

Adnan al­Ghoul is considered a master bombmaker, and Deif is a senior Hamas leader who has been on Israel's wanted list for five years, blamed for the bloodiest Hamas bombing attacks in Israel.

Israel's policy of tracking down suspected Palestinian militants for killing has drawn harsh international criticism. Israel has killed more than 50 Palestinians in such raids, a figure that includes a number of bystanders who died along with the suspected militants.

Israel has brushed aside the criticism, saying the raids are intended to stop Palestinian bombings and other attacks against Israeli targets.

Overall, seven Palestinians were killed on Wednesday.

Five died in a confrontation with Israeli forces, who opened fire on Palestinians planting a bomb in the West Bank. The Israelis said all were armed, but Palestinians said only one was a gunman.

In southern Gaza, another Palestinian was killed in unclear circumstances. A doctor said Mahmoud Jasser, 23, died in an explosion, but other Palestinians said he was shot by an Israeli sniper.

The latest violence cast a shadow over efforts to bring Arafat and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres together for truce talks.

Arafat, who was traveling in Asia on Thursday, suggested that they meet in Berlin in coming days. Peres, who was visiting Poland, said a meeting was possible next week, but noted that preparatory talks were still ongoing.

A US­brokered truce declared in June never took hold. Since fighting erupted last September, 584 people have been killed on the Palestinian side and 152 on the Israeli side.

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