By Justin Huggler
Publication Date: 
Fri, 2002-09-27 03:00

GAZA CITY, 27 September — Eight people, including a Palestinian baby and an Israeli officer, were killed in the Palestinian territories yesterday, as Israel said it eliminated a top leader of the Hamas resistance group. Israel’s siege of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, meanwhile, showed no sign of easing. Hamas said that Muhammad Deif, a leader of the Hamas military wing, Ezzedine El-Qassam Brigades, escaped assassination in an Israeli rocket attack on his car in Gaza City.

However, Deif, 36, was wounded in the attack, Palestinian medical sources here said, declining to say how seriously or his current whereabouts. Israeli Army radio said Israel’s security services were "99 percent" certain they had killed Deif, who has been wanted by the Jewish state for several years for organizing bomb attacks and killing soldiers. "Our leader and Muhajid (holy fighter) Muhammad Deif succeeded in foiling the plans of the Israeli security services and their (Palestinian) collaborators and escaped the attack," Ezzedine El-Qassam said.

Hamas political leader Abdel Aziz Rantissi, meanwhile, said two rank-and-file members of the group died in the strike, naming them as Abdelrahman Hamadan and Issa Ajarem. At least 40 people were wounded in the blast, more than 10 of them children, hospital officials said.

The helicopter attack came just days after the hawkish Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon warned that his forces would hit Islamist organizations based in the Gaza Strip. It also came on the eve of the second anniversary of the intifada, or Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation, that has cost more than 2,530 lives.

In July, the Israeli Air Force assassinated the head of the Ezzedine El-Qassam, Salah Shehade, in a bombing that also killed his bodyguard, wife, daughter and 13 other civilians. A successful attack against Deif would be a major blow for Hamas’ armed wing, already hit hard by Israeli operations in the West Bank, where dozens of leaders have been killed or injured, and by Shehade’s death. Earlier yesterday, Israeli forces shot dead a local Hamas leader near the West Bank town of Tulkarm in a firefight that also cost the life of an Israeli Army officer.

In Hebron, a 14-month-old Palestinian girl, Gharam Manna, died from tear gas thrown by Israeli soldiers on a crowd as scuffles erupted between Palestinian residents of the West Bank city and Israeli troops trying to impose a lockdown.

Around dawn, a Palestinian from Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an armed wing of Arafat’s Fatah movement, was shot dead trying to allegedly infiltrate Alei Sinai settlement in the northern Gaza Strip. An armored column made an incursion into the northeast of the Gaza Strip after Hamas activists fired three rockets into southern Israel late Wednesday. In the northern West Bank city of Jenin, Palestinian Mahmoud Idris, 52, was killed at dawn by Israeli troops who entered the western sector of the town, a Palestinian security source said.

Meanwhile, the standoff at Arafat’s battle-scarred headquarters in the West Bank town of Ramallah entered its second week with reports of sickness among the 250 armed defenders and no sign of an end to the Israeli Army siege. Israel insisted yesterday it will not lift the siege until Arafat hands over wanted men holed up inside, including the head of the West Bank intelligence service, Tawfiq Tirawi.

Israel has ignored a UN resolution adopted Tuesday calling on it to end the siege immediately, as well as playing down a sharp rebuke from US President George W. Bush.

On behalf of the European Union, Denmark which currently holds the EU rotating presidency joined in the criticism on Thursday, urging Israel to lift its "counterproductive" siege.

"The Israelis and Palestinians must understand that peace will not come about through the use of arms, nor through terrorism, nor through military escalation," Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller told reporters. (The Independent)

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