NUSSEIRAT REFUGEE CAMP, Gaza Strip – In the bloodiest day in the Gaza Strip (search) in months, Israeli warplanes and helicopters pounded militant targets Monday, killing 10 Palestinians, including seven in a refugee camp where a car was destroyed, and wounding about 100.
The violent Islamic movements Hamas (search) and Islamic Jihad (search) threatened revenge, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon pledged more raids and the State Department advised U.S. citizens to defer travel to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.
With prospects for Mideast peace efforts further clouded, U.S. officials confirmed that John Wolf, the head of the team monitoring implementation of the troubled U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan, was not planning to return to the region soon.
The bombing raids Monday came a day after Palestinian militants fired eight homemade rockets from Gaza into southern Israel and Palestinian gunmen ambushed an Israeli patrol in the West Bank, killing three soldiers and seriously wounding a fourth.
Israeli aircraft struck in five separate locations, hitting a suspected Hamas weapons cache twice, another storehouse and a car carrying suspected militants.
The nighttime strike in the Nusseirat camp in central Gaza, in which 75 people were wounded in addition to the seven killed, was the bloodiest since an April missile raid on a Hamas leader in Gaza City killed nine people.
Residents said Israeli helicopters fired three missiles at the main street, destroying a car. An Israeli army statement said the vehicle was carrying members of a Palestinian terrorist squad fleeing after a failed attempt to breach the border fence with Israel a few miles to the northeast.
But Israel's Channel 10 TV said that none of the dead were militants, characterizing the refugee camp strike as a "mistake."
Residents said one of the dead was a doctor who was treating victims when a second missile struck. The identity of the other victims was not immediately known.
Hundreds of camp residents carried charred pieces of the vehicle aloft and chanted, "Revenge, revenge."
In Gaza City, Israeli helicopters fired missiles at a building in the Shajaiyeh neighborhood, the same structure that was hit in an earlier airstrike Monday, residents said. Eleven people were wounded, they said. Israeli military sources said the attack was meant to finish the work of the first one.
The first three airstrikes Monday destroyed two weapons labs and warehouses of Hamas, the military said. Four children and a 70-year-old woman were among 25 wounded. Two missiles exploded on a street crowded with schoolchildren.
During three years of violence, Israeli airstrikes in Gaza have caused dozens of civilian casualties. In April, an air attack killed Hamas leader Said Arabeed and eight other people. In July 2002, 15 people were killed, including nine children, in an airstrike that targeted another Hamas leader, Salah Shehadeh.
Negotiations over implementing the "road map" plan, formally presented in June, have sputtered amid violence and political turmoil. The plan calls for an end to the three-year conflict and leads to a Palestinian state in 2005.
Wolf, the head of the team monitoring implementation of the troubled U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan, left for the United States last month, saying at the time he'd be back in 10 days.
A Palestinian bombing attack on a U.S. convoy in Gaza last week, killing three American guards, had led to expectations that the United States would scale back its involvement.
Except for a six-week Palestinian stand-down in the summer, clashes and bombings have continued unabated. Also, the Palestinians have been unable to field a stable government, and with Israel and the United States boycotting Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, no recent contacts have been held between Israeli and Palestinian officials.
In a speech to parliament Monday, Sharon called Arafat "the greatest obstacle to peace." Therefore, he added, "Israel is determined to bring about his removal from the political arena," referring to a Cabinet decision last month. In a newspaper interview last week, Sharon had indicated that he had no plan to expel Arafat -- an apparent softening of Israel's position.
Sharon's criticism of Arafat was greeted with catcalls and prompted several Arab legislators to walk out of the chamber. The speech also received a harsh response from Shimon Peres, leader of the opposition Labor Party, who accused Sharon of being insincere in his peacemaking efforts.
"Prime minister, you have missed the opportunity," Peres said.
"We are dealing with a nation that is fighting for its freedom, and don't take them lightly," said Peres, who shared the 1994 Nobel peace prize, of the Palestinians.
Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian peace negotiator, called Sharon's address a "speech of continuing the use of the most disproportionate use of force against Palestinians and a speech that was determined to undermine hope, peace, and reconciliation."
The facilities Israel targeted Monday had been used to make and store weapons, including Qassams, the army said. Hamas has fired dozens of Qassams, with a range of about six miles, at Israeli settlements in Gaza and at towns just outside the fence in the past three years.
The airstrikes targeted the "artery of the weapons chain," said an Israeli army spokeswoman, Maj. Sharon Feingold.
Palestinians were harshly critical. Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia said that "the world should wake up to this aggression," but that he still hopes to negotiate a truce with Israel.
In the first strike, Israeli warplanes bombed a building under construction in Gaza City that Israel said was a weapons site.
Eleven Palestinians were hurt in the bombing. The alleged weapons workshop was 200 yards from the house of Islamic Jihad leader Abdullah Shami, who was not hurt.
Less than three hours later, two missiles hit a white pickup truck. An Israeli military official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the two men in the truck had tried to salvage explosives not destroyed in the initial airstrike.
The two men in the truck and a bystander were killed, and 12 Palestinians were hurt, four seriously. Israel has killed dozens of wanted Palestinians, as well as many bystanders, in targeted attacks.
The pickup had stopped at a traffic light near a gas station on a busy street crowded with schoolchildren, when the missiles hit the front of the vehicle. A kindergarten and an elementary school had just let out students for the day.
"Schoolchildren were trying to cross the road [at the time]," said bus driver Ahmed Sobeh, who was driving behind the pickup. "I saw a person in the car being evacuated and his body was completely burned. I also saw a teenager on the side of the street covered with blood but he was alive."
In the third attack, a missile destroyed a one-room house on the outskirts of Gaza City. A second missile demolished a car parked nearby, Palestinian officials said. The car's passengers apparently fled before the missile hit, witnesses said.