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Israeli missile kills 11 Palestinians in Gaza

Written by: Staff

GAZA, June 13 (Reuters) An Israeli missile strike on a van carrying militants and rockets killed 11 Palestinians, nine of them civilians, in Gaza today in the deadliest such attack in nearly four years.

The air strike signalled that Israel would not flinch from targeting rocket squads in densely populated areas in spite of an outcry over the deaths of seven Palestinians on a Gaza beach on Friday in a blast militants blamed on Israeli shellfire.

''We have been showing restraint due to the international storm caused by the incident on the Gaza beach -- but no longer,'' Israeli Defence Minister Amir Peretz was quoted by the YNet news Web site as telling reporters in northern Israel.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called the missile attack ''state terrorism''. The high civilian toll was certain to set militant groups, already skirmishing between themselves, on a course of even fiercer confrontation with Israel.

At the same time, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has approved a shipment of weapons to forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, an Olmert aide said today, in a move that bolsters Abbas against the rival Hamas group.

Israel said it targeted the Gaza van because it was carrying powerful armaments that could have been used against it.

''The car that we hit was loaded with Katyusha rockets and launchers and they were on their way to launch those Katyusha rockets at Israel,'' an army spokeswoman said in Tel Aviv after the attack in the eastern outskirts of Gaza City.

Witnesses said an Israeli aircraft fired two missiles. The first hit the vehicle, causing it to crash into the pavement. A second missile hit as a crowd gathered and rescuers arrived.

Hospital officials said nine civilians, including two children and two medics, were killed as well as two Islamic Jihad militants.

About 30 people were wounded.

''Today we have said farewell to our martyrs and tomorrow Israel will say farewell to their dead,'' Islamic Jihad said.

Rockets could be clearly seen in the wreckage of a yellow van.

The Israeli army said the projectiles could hit targets up to 20 km away, a range far greater than that of the crude Qassam rockets usually fired by militants from Gaza.

Militants have fired more than 100 rockets into Israel since the Gaza beach explosion, the army said. Israel pulled its troops and settlers out of Gaza last year and has said it will not tolerate cross-border rocket attacks.

ISRAELI INQUIRY A senior Israeli military official said the findings of an army investigation into the beach incident, due to be released later today, would show the blast was probably not caused by an Israeli artillery shell.

He suggested instead that a land mine planted by a Palestinian militant group might have been the cause.

Blaming Israel for Friday's explosion, Hamas, the Islamic militant group that now heads the Palestinian government, declared an end to a 16-month-old truce with the Jewish state.

The group, dedicated to Israel's destruction, was responsible for nearly 60 suicide bombings in Israeli cities after a Palestinian uprising began in 2000.

It last carried out a suicide bombing in 2004 and largely abided by the truce reached in early 2005.

In the West Bank, more violence flared between Abbas's Fatah faction and Hamas.

Fatah members set fire to two Hamas offices in the towns of Salfit and Qalqilya in the West Bank, witnesses said. Fatah gunmen fired at a facility belonging to Hamas in Nablus.

Nobody was hurt in the incidents, which followed an arson attack by Fatah gunmen on Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh's office at the Palestinian parliamentary building in Ramallah yesterday.

The intra-Palestinian tension has been inflamed by a referendum that Abbas has called for July 26 on his vision of a Palestinian state side-by-side with Israel. Hamas does not recognise Israel and has labelled the referendum a coup attempt.

Reuters SY GC2047

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