Israeli Missile Kills Hamas Militant in Gaza

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An Israeli helicopter strike killed a Hamas (search) militant in the Gaza Strip (search) Thursday, Fox News has confirmed.

The Apache helicopter targeted the wanted man's donkey cart in Khan Younis (search), a town near Gaza's southern border with Egypt.

A Palestinian security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, identified the dead man as Hamdi Kalkha, 23. He said three others were wounded, confirming reports from medical officials.

Hamas supporters speaking by telephone confirmed that Kalkha was a member of Hamas' military wing.

The action came after Israeli jeeps and an army bulldozer entered the Gaza Strip and began clearing Palestinian land in response to militants firing homemade rockets into Israel.

It was not immediately clear whether the foray was the start of a larger Israeli operation in northern Gaza.

It came several hours after Palestinian militants fired four Qassam (search) rockets from northern Gaza toward Israel. One rocket hit in an industrial zone a half mile outsdide the Israeli coastal city of Ashkelon, the deepest strike since Hamas began firing Qassams toward Israel in November 2001. It caused no damage or casualties.

As a military bulldozer tore down brush, soldiers in two jeeps searched for rocket launchers. Security officials said troops would withdraw again quickly and were not the prelude to a larger operation.

The rocket earlier in the day hit a road near a brewery in the industrial zone, about a half-mile outside Ashkelon (search) — the deepest rocket strike since Hamas began firing such rockets in November 2001. The primitive rockets rarely cause injuries or damage — and did not in Thursday's firing — but Israel considers them a strategic threat.

In the past week, Hamas has stepped up rocket fire, and Israeli tanks were sent to the border with Gaza several days ago, poised for the possible retaking of Palestinian-controlled areas of Gaza if shelling continues. "We will have to act with all means at our disposal to prevent these acts in the future," Zalman Shoval, an Israeli government spokesman, said Thursday.

Also on Thursday, the Palestinian Authority froze 39 bank accounts of nine Islamic charities in what appeared to be part of a U.S.-sought crackdown on Palestinian militants, according to an official document obtained Thursday by The Associated Press.

Israel, meanwhile, welcomed the Palestinian order to freeze the accounts. The Palestinian Authority has been under growing U.S. pressure to take action against militants, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Militant groups formally abandoned a unilateral truce last week after Israeli killed a Hamas leader in response to a deadly Hamas bus bombing.

Despite U.S. prodding, the Palestinian government has been reluctant to arrest the militants and seize their weapons, because of concern about triggering unrest and because of wrangling between Yasser Arafat and his prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, over control of the security forces.

The order to shut down the bank accounts was issued by the Palestinian Monetary Authority on Sunday, and came to light Thursday, when hundreds of Palestinians relying on welfare payments from charities tried to pick up their monthly support checks at banks in Gaza City. They were told by banks they would not receive the money because the accounts have been frozen.

The Palestinian Monetary Authority confirmed the order was issued.

Dore Gold, an Israeli government spokesman, welcomed the freezing of funds. "There have been charities that Israel has long suspected of being front organizations for Hamas," he said. "Anything that serves this need (of stopping the flow of money) is a positive development."

According to a copy of the order obtained by the AP, the nine charities are: Al Jamiya Al Islamiya, the Islamic Young Women's Association, As-Salah Association, the Social Care Committee, the Palestinian Student Friends Association, the Islamic Charity for Zakat, Al Mujamma Al Islami, Al Nour Charity Association and Al Aqsa Charity Association. The banks were told no money can be withdrawn from those accounts without authorization of the attorney general.

Palestinian officials confirmed that the Palestinian prime minister believes two of the charities — Al Jamiya Al Islamiya and As-Salah — are fronts for Hamas, and in a letter to Saudi Arabia in December requested that the money sent to these groups be diverted to his government.

President Bush, responding to the Aug. 19 bus bombing in Jerusalem that killed 21 people, announced last week that the United States is freezing the funds of six senior Hamas figures in Gaza, Syria and Lebanon, as well as of five European-based charities that he accused of funding Hamas. Those five charities are different from the nine operating in the Gaza Strip.

In the past three years of Israeli-Palestinian fighting, the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority has increasingly stopped providing welfare services, and private charities, including Islamic ones receiving large sums of money from abroad, have filled the void.

Amir Abu Omarein, director of Al Mujamma Al Islami, said freezing the funds will hurt the poorest Palestinians. He said his charity, set up in the 1970s by Hamas spiritual leader and founder Sheik Ahmed Yassin, supports about 3,000 people, including the families of Palestinian prisoners, those wounded in fighting with Israel, and orphans.

Abu Omarein would not say how much money the charity had in its account, or what the source of the donations is.

About 2,000 welfare recipients marched in protest to the Palestinian Monetary Authority after learning they would not receive their monthly checks. "We are not terrorists. Freezing the bank accounts is a crime," read one banner.

Hanan Jaress, 45, a mother of 12, said she received $190 a month from the Al Mujamma Al Islami group, which was set up in the 1970s by Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual leader and founder of Hamas. "This step will make me unable to feed my children," she said. "The Palestinian Authority gives me nothing."

Israel has said the charities channel funds from abroad to Hamas and Islamic Jihad for violent activities.

Also Thursday, nine Palestinians were wounded in clashes with Israeli troops in the West Bank city of Nablus. Three of the wounded — ages 19, 20 and 22 — were in serious condition. The Israeli military said that at times troops came under fire and had firebombs thrown at them. In two cases, Palestinians shoved ovens from ledges or roofs, trying to hit soldiers, the army said.

In the nearby town of Qabatiya, soldiers blew up the two-story house of an Islamic Jihad militant who died in a Jan. 1 shooting attack after killing an Israeli. Witnesses said 15 relatives left the house before it was demolished, a common action by the army intended to dissuade attacks.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.