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Monday, 4 February, 2002, 15:42 GMT
Israel blamed for militants' deaths
Palestinians survey wreckage left from the fatal blast
The Israeli army had 'no knowledge' of the blast
Palestinian security officials say an explosion that killed five Palestinians in the Gaza Strip was caused by an Israeli missile attack.

map showing gaza
The Israeli army, however, said it had no knowledge of the incident near the town of Rafah.

But some media reports in Israel suggested that a bomb being carried in the car the men were travelling in might have exploded prematurely.

The radical Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) said those killed were its members and vowed to avenge their killings, which it said were part of "Israel's criminal assassination policy".

Human body parts were spread about 10 metres around the car

Eyewitness Muhammad Abu Aram
"Retaliation will come very soon and will shake the land under the feet of the occupiers," a DFLP leaflet said.

The explosion is a blow to hopes raised by surprise talks last between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian leaders, correspondents say. The talks were Mr Sharon's first meetings with Palestinian leaders since he took office.


Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat said the Israeli Government did not want to calm the situation.

"Nothing can shake the Palestinian people and they will stand strong until Judgement Day," said Mr Arafat - still under siege in his Ramallah headquarters in the West Bank.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat
Arafat has come under pressure from all sides
The men's bodies were strewn around the burnt-out wreckage of the car, witnesses said.

They said light arms, including Kalashnikov assault rifles, could be seen on the road by the wrecked car.

Local sources in Gaza told the BBC they had seen a drone plane, used by Israeli surveillance forces, in the sky at the time of the incident.

Israeli forces have killed scores of suspected Palestinian militants in what they call "targeted attacks" in the past 16 months.

No let-up

Monday's blast came after Mr Sharon told his cabinet that he has no intention of easing the pressure on Mr Arafat.

In a New York Times article published on Sunday Mr Arafat had condemned Palestinian militant groups who attacked Israeli civilians as "terrorist organisations".

But Mr Sharon dismissed Mr Arafat's comments as "irrelevant" - although he said he would continue meeting other Palestinian leaders despite criticism from right-wing members of his government.

The BBC's Kylie Morris
"Yasser Arafat accused Israel of escalating the violence"
Afif Safieh, Palestinian general delegate in the UK
"They continue with this targeted assassination"
See also:

04 Feb 02 | Middle East
Sharon defends secret talks
02 Feb 02 | Middle East
Militant group shuns Arafat
02 Feb 02 | Middle East
Israeli PM meets top Palestinians
01 Feb 02 | Middle East
Sharon condemned for Arafat remarks
25 Jan 02 | Middle East
US reconsiders ties with Arafat
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