Palestinians Fire Rockets Into Israel

Published September 21, 2004

| Associated Press

Palestinian militants fired three homemade rockets into southern Israel on Tuesday and Hamas (search) threatened a suicide bombing in retaliation for Israel's latest airstrike in Gaza, which killed two militants from the Islamic group.

The Israeli army said there were no injuries or damage from the rockets, which were fired from Gaza. It was the latest in a series of mortar and rocket attacks aimting the car and killing the two Hamas men instantly. Israel charged that they were going to fire rockets at Israeli targets.

Israel is planning to withdraw its soldiers and dismantle all 21 Jewish settlements in Gaza next year, and analysts predict escalating violence as the pullout approaches.

Palestinian militants are trying to show that they are ejecting the Israelis by force, while Israel is just as determined to hit the militants and demonstrate that it would not tolerate attacks after the withdrawal.

Israeli settlers opposed to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's (search) plan to dismantle Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip (search) filed a lawsuit in the Supreme Court on Tuesday, saying the government's offer to make advance compensation payments to settlers willing to leave their homes is illegal.

Haim Sgav, a lawyer for the Gaza settlers, said money could not be paid from public coffers without enabling legislation.

The Monday attack on Hamas was Israel's second in as many days. A day earlier, another Hamas militant was killed in a similar airstrike.

"Hamas will teach the enemy (Israel) the same lesson of Beer Sheba," said Mushir al-Masri, a spokesman for the group.

He was referring to the last Hamas attack inside Israel, when homicide bombers blew up two buses in the southern Israeli city of Beer Sheba on Aug. 31, killing 16 passengers.

Thousands of Palestinians took part in a funeral procession for the two militants killed in the airstrike. Dozens of armed militants hoisted Palestinian flags, green Hamas flags and chanted angry slogans calling for revenge.

During four years of conflict, Israel has killed dozens of militants in helicopter airstrikes. In April and May, missile attacks killed the founder of the violent Islamic Hamas, Sheik Ahmed Yassin (search), and his successor, Abdel Aziz Rantisi (search).

Israelis say the strikes are self defense — preventing attacks against Israelis. Palestinians and human rights groups denounce the practice as summary execution.

In other violence Tuesday, a 3-year-old boy was shot in the leg during an overnight Israeli army operation in the West Bank city of Nablus, Palestinian residents and the army said.

Bader Al Amoudi said his son, Muataz, was sleeping when the army ordered residents of their three-story apartment building out of their homes early Tuesday. Al Amoudi said it took him some time to wake the boy, and they were shot as he carried his son out of the building.

"Why did they shoot at us?" Al Amoudi said. "We went out of the house like they asked us." He said he was shot in the finger, and the boy was in stable condition with a broken leg.

Military officials said the army fired at a man who tried to exit the building out a back window and ignored calls to halt. They said the man was lightly wounded in the hand and a child inside the house was accidentally hit.

In a separate incident, two masked Israeli settlers beat a Palestinian farmer who was picking figs in his grove near Nablus, Palestinian villagers said.

Mustafa Ali Khatatbeh, 37, said he was in his field when the settlers — one with a machine gun and the other holding an iron bar — approached.

He tried to flee, but was caught and beaten with the bar and a stick. He said he suffered 20 stitches. Khatatbeh's village is near Itamar, a Jewish settlement whose residents are known for their hardline views.

Shlomi Sagi, an Israeli police spokesman in the West Bank, said he was unaware of the incident.

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