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Thursday, 14 March, 2002, 15:31 GMT
Mid-East deaths threaten US mission
Wounded Israeli transferred to hospital
The Gaza attack may trigger further Israeli retaliation
Three Israeli soldiers have died after a roadside bomb blew up their tank in the southern Gaza Strip, as the US special envoy, Anthony Zinni, has arrived in Israel at the start of his third peace mission in the region.

A coalition of Palestinian militant groups said it was behind the blast near the Jewish settlement of Netzarim, while another radical group, Hamas, vowed to continue attacking Israelis during Mr Zinni's visit.

All Palestinian groups are determined to pursue the resistance

Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, Hamas founder

In other violence, there are reports that two members of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a militant group linked to Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement, were killed in a helicopter missile strike on a farm near the West Bank town of Tulkarm.

The Palestinian Authority said it would not take part in ceasefire talks with Israel while Israeli forces were in Palestinian areas, a senior aide to Mr Arafat was quoted as saying.

Israeli troops and tanks were still in the main West Bank city of Ramallah, as well as the towns of Qalqilyah and Bethlehem, two days after the army launched its biggest offensive in years.

Four Palestinians were killed in clashes with Israeli soldiers at the entrance to al-Amari refugee camp near Ramallah on Thursday morning, Palestinian sources reported.

Ceasefire doubt

The soaring levels of violence threaten to wreck Mr Zinni's mission, aimed at securing a ceasefire this weekend in time for the arrival of US Vice-President Dick Cheney.

Enlarge image Enlarge map
Map of the West Bank and Gaza

"There won't be any connections or any meetings with any Israelis until they stop their aggression and withdraw from all the cities," said Nadil Abu Rdainah, a spokesman for Mr Arafat.

Palestinian witnesses said some Israeli tanks had pulled out of Ramallah, but the army said the reported movement could be tactical and not a withdrawal.

French news agency AFP said 60 out of 100 tanks remained in the city.

Booby-trap bomb

The Israeli army said three soldiers were killed and two other Israelis were injured when their Merkava battle tank was blown up by a powerful booby-trap bomb near Gaza's Qarni crossing with Israel.

Collusion between the Islamist terrorist groups is not a good sign

Olivier Rafowitz, Israeli army
Last month, three soldiers were killed when a similar tank was destroyed by militants in the Gaza Strip in the first attack of its kind.

The latest attack was claimed by a grouping of Palestinian militant organisations, including members of Hamas and the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.

An Israeli army spokesman, Olivier Rafowitz, told BBC News Online the "collusion between the Islamist terrorist groups is not a good sign".

The founder of the militant Palestinian group Hamas, which has carried out a wave of suicide bombings against Israel, said attacks would not stop for the US peace mission.

"All Palestinian groups are determined to pursue the resistance," Sheikh Ahmed Yassin said.

Following the Gaza attack, Israeli troops moved into the nearby village of al-Meghraqa to search for suspects, Palestinian sources said.

Two Palestinian police posts and five houses were demolished by army bulldozers, AFP quoted villagers as saying.

The BBC's Richard Lister
"Ariel Sharon has ordered a fazed withdrawal"
See also:

12 Mar 02 | Middle East
Annan appeal brings mixed response
12 Mar 02 | Middle East
In pictures: Israel goes in hard
12 Mar 02 | Middle East
Six Israelis killed in gun attack
12 Mar 02 | Middle East
Controversy over 'execution' pictures
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