Two children killed after Israel launches air strike

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Two Palestinian children and a teenager were killed last night after Israel launched an air strike on militants in northern Gaza.

Witnesses said the targets of the attack jumped out of a car before it was hit. Nine, people, including children, were hurt.

The two children killed in the air strike were a five-year-old boy, Mohammed Al-Rouka, and his seven-year-old sister, Nadia Al-Rouka. The teenager was identified as 16-year-old Bilal Al-Hasa.

The strike in Jabalia on suspected members of the Fatah-linked Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade follows one last week in Gaza which killed eight civilians, including two small children. Last night, hundreds of angry Palestinians gathered around the burnt-out vehicle, shouting slogans.

Khalil Roka, a cousin of the dead children said he was sitting in front of his car repair shop as a group of youngsters played in front of a house nearby. Mr Roka said he saw a red flash as the car exploded, and the children were hit, but he didn't see the child who was killed. "I was carrying my other cousins to the ambulance," he said.

About 130 Qassam rockets have been fired from Gaza into Israel since an explosion 11 days ago that killed seven members of the same family on a Gaza beach. An Israeli military investigation absolved Israel of responsibility for the blast though the army has not so far ruled out the possibility that it could have been caused by an unexploded shell.

Israel's Defence Minister Amir Peretz has been under strong political pressure to curb the Qassam rocket attacks. Yesterday one landed in open ground outside the Israeli town of Sderot and the other inside Gaza.

The Israel Defence Forces said it regretted the loss of civilian life in last night's attack but added that the main responsibility rested with the terror organisations. Military sources said the militants were on their way to launch Qassam rockets.

Before last night's strike, the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had issued a strongly-worded call for Palestinians to halt the Qassam rocket attacks.