Three Americans killed in diplomatic convoy blast

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The Independent Online

A huge explosion ripped through a diplomatic convoy in the Gaza Strip today, killing three Americans and wounding another in the first attack on a US target in three years of Israel-Palestinian fighting.

A huge explosion ripped through a diplomatic convoy in the Gaza Strip today, killing three Americans and wounding another in the first attack on a US target in three years of Israel-Palestinian fighting.

The attack was condemned by Palestinian officials who said those killed were members of a US monitoring team sent to the region to supervise implementation of a US-backed peace plan.

A roadside bomb exploded as the three-car convoy with a Palestinian police escort drove near a petrol station on the outskirts of Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip, along the main north-south road. Israeli reports said the American cars had armour plasting.

The blast tore a van in half and the pavement was stained with blood and littered with bits of flesh.

An AP reporter saw a gray wire with an on-off switch leading from the scene of the attack to a small concrete room at the side of the road.

Palestinian militants have attacked Israeli army and settler convoys in Gaza repeatedly in the past three years of fighting, both with bombs and gunfire. Islamic militants, responsible for the bulk of the attacks, have said in the past they have no interest in "exporting" the conflict by taking aim at non-Israeli targets.

Mohammed Radwan, a Palestinian taxi driver, said: "I was about to fill up my car with gas when I saw the American convoy passing. There was a Palestinian police car in front and then three big (US) cars. When the third one passed, an explosion went off."

"The first two cars drove quickly and stopped far form the explosion. Palestinian security people jumped out of the car and rushed to the car that had blown up. When I tried to approach them, they shouted at me to leave. I saw two people covered with blood lying next to the car."

The wounded man was initially treated at a Gaza hospital and was awaiting transfer to Soroka Hospital in the Israeli town of Beersheba.

US diplomatic sources said the people in the targeted car were security guards for diplomats travelling in the other vehicles.

Israeli radio reports said CIA officials were travelling in the convoy.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia denounced the attack. "We strongly condemn this incident and we will conduct an investigation and we will follow it to find the source of this attack," he told reporters in the West Bank.

Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat suggested the blast would undercut the long-standing Palestinian plea for international supervision in the West Bank and Gaza. "These are American monitors that have come here at our request, Erekat said. "These people were here to help us."

Israeli officials said the attack underscored the need to dismantle Palestinian militant groups - a requirement of the stalled, US-backed "road map" peace plan that Palestinian leaders have refused to carry out.

"What happened is evidence that no one is immune, unfortunately, to Palestinian terrorism, even when we are talking about the representatives of ... the United States, whose entire goal was and remains to advance a peace agreement between the sides," said Zalman Shoval, an adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

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