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Thursday, 26 September, 2002, 16:36 GMT 17:36 UK
Israel targets suicide bomb mastermind
Israel says it was targeting a Hamas commander
The car was destroyed by two direct hits
Two members of Palestinian militant group Hamas have been killed in an Israeli air strike in the Gaza Strip.

Israel says the target of the strike was the head of Hamas's military wing, Mohammed Deif, who has been involved in the planning of suicide bombings against Israeli targets.

It is unclear whether Mr Deif - who has headed Israel's wanted list for years - was killed in the attack.

Israeli television reported that the Hamas commander had been killed, but Hamas leaders insist he is still alive.

About 40 bystanders were also injured in the attack.

Witnesses said a car received two direct hits in the attack in a crowded area of Gaza City.

According to Hamas officials, an aide of Mr Deif, Abdel-Rahim Hamdan, was killed along with a second as yet unidentified man.

Hamas has vowed to step up suicide bombings inside Israel to avenge the attack.

The strike occurred in the Sheikh Radwan neighbourhood - a Hamas stronghold in the north of Gaza City.

Israeli tank in Yasser Arafat's compound
The Israeli PM says the siege in Ramallah is justified
The BBC's correspondent James Rodgers says Israeli helicopters were heard in the skies over Gaza at around lunchtime.

"Suddenly we heard the sound of a big explosion," said Mohammed Hajar, a hairdresser working in the area.

"When I ran out, a second explosion took place."

A large crowd gathered at the scene as rescue workers led the wounded to ambulances.

Palestinian officials say several children were among the wounded.

The latest violence brings Thursday's death toll to seven.

Earlier in the West Bank, a 14-month-old Palestinian baby died after inhaling tear gas fired by Israeli soldiers enforcing a curfew in Hebron.

The International Red Crescent organisation says this is thought to be the first time a child has died of tear gas inhalation during the current violence.

Siege defended

Four other people died in clashes across the Palestinian territories on Thursday, including an Israeli officer killed in a gun battle.

The army officer died near the northern West Bank town of Tulkarm in an exchange of fire in which a member of Hamas was also killed.

Also on Thursday, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon defended Israel's siege of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's compound.

He said wanted men holed up inside the compound are "the biggest terrorists that exist".

Israeli forces invaded and started destroying the compound on 19 September following two suicide bomb attacks in two days.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's James Rodgers
"The car suffered two direct hits from missiles"
Mark Regev, the Israeli Embassy in Washington
"There can be no doubt that this man is a legitimate target"
Khalil Shikaki, Center for Policy Research, Ramallah
"The chances are slim that we are able to go back to the peace process"

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26 Sep 02 | Middle East
26 Sep 02 | Middle East
24 Sep 02 | Middle East
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