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Militant dies in Gaza blast

Israel denies its rockets killed a Islamic Jihad leader and six others.

February 16, 2008|Rushdi abu Alouf and Richard Boudreaux | Special to The Times

GAZA CITY — A senior commander of Islamic Jihad, a Palestinian group waging hostilities against Israel, was killed late Friday along with his wife, two of their children and three young militants in an explosion that flattened the family's home in the Gaza Strip, officials said.

The 8:45 p.m. explosion damaged seven nearby homes in the Bureij refugee camp and wounded at least 30 people, 10 of them seriously, said Moawiya Hassanain, a Health Ministry official in Gaza.

Islamic Jihad accused Israel of striking the senior commander's three-story house in the refugee camp with a surface-to-surface missile and vowed revenge. The Israeli military denied it had attacked the camp, which lies just south of Gaza City about 500 yards from the Israeli border.

Police controlled by Hamas, the militant group that governs Gaza, also said an Israeli missile had struck.

But witnesses reported seeing fragments of what looked like locally produced rockets in the wreckage, suggesting the possibility of an accidental explosion of weapons stored in the home. Islamic Jihad fires rockets at towns and farms in Israel almost daily.

A Hamas militant with a walkie-talkie appeared on Palestinian television in Gaza at the scene of the blast, warning people to leave. He said there might be four or five unexploded rockets in the area.

Ayman Fayed, 42, a commander better known as Abu Abdallah, was killed, along with his wife, 7-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son, the Health Ministry official said. The other dead were identified as Islamic Jihad fighters.

Israel often carries out targeted assassinations of Gaza militants by bombing their cars, as it did in December when it killed Islamic Jihad's top military commander, Majid Harazin. But not since 2006 has Israel attempted such a killing by bombing a house.

"It was not us," an Israeli military spokeswoman said of Friday's explosion. "There have been no actions in the Gaza Strip."

Islamic Jihad nonetheless used the incident to try to rally Palestinian anger against the Jewish state.

"We will respond to this Zionist massacre painfully," said Abu Ahmed, a spokesman for the group. "We will strike the enemy everywhere."

The threat appeared to signal an end to a relative lull in attacks against Israel that followed a barrage of at least 40 homemade rockets last week.

One of those rockets caused a outcry in Israel by wounding two brothers, 8 and 19 years old, in the town of Sderot. The younger boy had part of a leg amputated. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert came under intense pressure from the public and allies in his government to respond more forcefully to the rockets, which have killed 12 Israelis in the last seven years.

The attacks have intensified since Hamas took control of Gaza in June. Islamic Jihad operates in a loose alliance in Gaza with Hamas. Both groups advocate Israel's destruction and oppose peace talks being conducted with Israel by the Palestinian Authority's moderate leadership.

Olmert hinted this week that Israel would begin targeting civilian leaders of those groups as well, and his defense minister warned of a broad military assault on Gaza. Israel also imposes economic sanctions on the coastal enclave, restricting food, fuel and electricity, but has been unable to stop the rockets.

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boudreaux@latimes.com

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Special correspondent Abu Alouf reported from Gaza City and Times staff writer Boudreaux from Jerusalem.

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