GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – An Israeli airstrike targeting a key figure in Palestinian rocket attacks killed 10 people Tuesday, including the militant, two children and three medical workers who rushed to the scene of an initial blast.
The deaths of at least eight civilians in the Gaza City attack was sure to heighten anti-Israel passions already inflamed by a weekend blast at a Gaza shore that killed eight beachgoers. It was also likely to further complicate efforts by the moderate Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, to persuade the balking Hamas government to endorse a proposal implicitly recognizing Israel.
Abbas condemned the airstrike, calling it "state terrorism."
The deadly airstrike came just hours after hundreds of Palestinian police loyal to Abbas went on a rampage against the Hamas government, riddling the parliament building and Cabinet offices with bullets before setting them ablaze in retaliation for an attack by Hamas gunmen in the Gaza Strip. The rampage raised new fears the Palestinians were headed toward civil war.
The Israeli military said its aircraft targeted militants on a mission to launch Katyusha rockets at southern Israel. Palestinian witnesses said the first missile missed the vehicle, which then hit a curb and was struck by two other missiles.
The last two missiles killed the civilians and wounded 32 others, three of them seriously. Also killed was Hamoud Wadiya, Islamic Jihad's top rocket launcher, and an unidentified person in his van, whom the Israeli military identified as another Palestinian militant.
Islamic Jihad swiftly vowed revenge.
"The Zionist enemy insists on shedding Palestinian blood and we insist on going ahead with our holy war and resistance," said Khader Abib, an Islamic Jihad leader in Gaza. "God willing, the resistance groups ... will deliver a harsh response. All options are open."
Hekmat Mughrabi, tears streaming down her face and her veil soaked with blood, said her 30-year-old son, Ashraf, and a 13-year-old family member died when one of the missiles hit the curb outside her home. She and her son were chatting on her bed when they heard the boom of the first missile. The young man ran to the door of the house after the initial explosion, seeking to calm the children, who had been on the roof making paper kites during their summer vacation.
"He was shouting to the kids, 'Don't be afraid, don't be afraid,"' and hadn't even finished his sentence when the second missile hit, she said. "My son died in my arms."
Shrapnel from the blast injured several other family members in the house, she said.
Outside, dozens of people surrounded Wadiya's mangled yellow van, whose interior was a jumble of twisted metal and shredded upholstery. A man wailed beside the van as people propped him up by the arms. A white slipper lay in a pool of blood on the ground.
If the van was carrying Katyusha rockets as Israel said, that could explain why the army was so determined to stop it. Katyushas have a longer range than the homemade rockets usually fired by Gaza militants and have only recently appeared in the coastal strip.
A Cabinet minister from Hamas, Yousef Rizka, condemned what he called "the continuous series of Israeli massacres of our Palestinian people."
"I call on the international community to immediately intervene to protect the Palestinian people from the increasing aggression of the Israeli occupation army, which will definitely provoke a response that will engage the entire region," Rizka said.
Hamas recently resumed open involvement in rocket attacks against Israel, and after the beach explosion Friday, officially called off a 16-month truce.
Ambulances raced toward Shifa Hospital, carrying dead and wounded. At the hospital, three blood-covered bodies lay on the floor, and rescue workers carried a dead boy inside.
A father and son also were killed, as were three medical workers on their way to tend to people wounded by an earlier missile.
Doctors had a hard time handling all the casualties, and some were treated on the bloodied floor.
At the hospital's morgue, where the bodies were brought, angry women shouted, "Death to Israel, death to the occupation!"
Just outside, an Islamic Jihad militant fired his rifle in a show of anger. Other gunmen vowed revenge. One went inside the morgue, put his hands on one of the dead bodies, then smeared their blood on his rifle. Angry crowds burned tires near the house one Israeli missile hit.
"What happened today is a brutal massacre committed against innocent civilians and fighters from our group," said Abib, the Islamic Jihad leader, outside the morgue. "This massacre is similar to the one that took place on Friday."
Palestinians have blamed the Gaza beach deaths on an Israeli artillery round. Israeli military officials said Tuesday that the military's investigation, whose results are to be released later in the day, shows the deaths likely were caused by a mine planted by Hamas militants.
Abbas accused Israel of trying to "wipe out the Palestinian people."
"Every day there are martyrs, there are wounded people, all of them innocents, all of them bystanders," he said. "They want to eliminate the Palestinian people, but we are going to sit tight. We are sitting tight on our land.
"We want to establish our state and live in peace," he added. "What Israel is committing is state terrorism."
Abbas, a moderate elected separately last year, is being squeezed by violence with Israel and violence pitting his Fatah faction against Hamas gunmen, which has killed 20 Palestinians, some of them civilians, over the past month.
He is trying to persuade Israel to restart long-stalled peace talks with him, rather than the Hamas government, but Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, visiting European capitals this week, says Israel won't negotiate with Abbas unless Hamas abandons violence.
Olmert plans to unilaterally pull Israeli settlers out of about 90 percent of the West Bank, with or without negotiations.