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Last Updated: Thursday, 28 August, 2003, 22:07 GMT 23:07 UK
Israeli missile kills Hamas militant
Palestinians look at a dead donkey at the site where a Hamas militant was killed by a missile
Hamdi Kalakh was riding a donkey cart when the missile struck

A missile strike by the Israeli air force has killed a member of Palestinian militant group Hamas in Gaza.

Hamdi Kalakh was an active member in the group's military wing responsible for rocket attacks on Israel, the organisation said in a statement.

He was hit by a missile fired from an Apache helicopter gunship as he was riding a donkey cart in the southern Gaza town of Khan Younis. Three other people were injured in the attack.

His killing came hours after a makeshift rocket apparently fired from Gaza landed in the southern Israeli town of Ashkelon.

It's crossing a red line...This is an alarming reality for us
Foreign Ministry spokesman Jonathan Peled

No-one was injured by the rocket - one of four launched from the Gaza Strip - but this was the first time an improvised Qassam missile had reached so far north.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ordered the army to take "all necessary steps" against Palestinian militants.

"I have instructed the minister of defence to take all necessary steps to avoid such actions in the future," he told correspondents after the rocket strike.

Israeli armed vehicles cleared vegetation from the area of the northern Gaza Strip from where the rocket on Ashkelon was fired, to prevent militants from taking cover.

Hamas had earlier rejected a call by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat for militant groups to renew the truce they abandoned last week.

Hamas political leader Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi said the group would not consider a truce while Israel continued targeting its followers, and warned against any attempt at a crackdown by Palestinian security forces.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath told the BBC that by rejecting Mr Arafat's appeal the militants were putting Palestinians "in danger".

"The roadmap is the only proper road we have back to peace," he said.

'Red line'

Hamas and Islamic Jihad both called off a seven-week-old truce last week after Israel killed Hamas co-founder Ismail Abu Shanab in retaliation for the suicide bombing of a Jerusalem bus that left 21 people dead.

An Israeli soldier looks at the remains of Qassam rocket that landed in an open field near the industrial zone in Israeli the coastal city of Ashkelon
This is the farthest a rocket has reached since 2000
Palestinian officials told Reuters news agency Palestinian security forces had rushed to the area from where the rocket had been fired to rein in Hamas militants to prevent further launchings.

"There was a chase and a shoot-out," a Palestinian security official told the agency.

Israeli officials said Thursday's attack may have breached a "red line" necessitating a major military response.

"It's crossing a red line...This is an alarming reality for us," Foreign Ministry spokesman Jonathan Peled said.

The road map peace plan requires Palestinians to end violence and Israel to pull back forces from occupied territory to pave the way for a Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank by 2005.




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The BBC's David Chazan
"The Israelis cleared land they said had been used by militants to fire into Israel"



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