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Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 October, 2003, 15:31 GMT 16:31 UK
Tense aftermath of Gaza bomb blast
Wreckage of US diplomatic vehicle
The bomb blast reduced the jeep to wreckage
Crowds of angry Palestinians confronted American officials in the aftermath of the Gaza Strip bomb attack on the US diplomatic convoy.

Stone-throwing youths surrounded the American investigators, who had just arrived at the scene near the village of Beit Hanoun.

The US officials were rescued by the intervention of Palestinian police who dispersed the youths.

The clashes happened a few hours after an explosion ripped apart an armoured jeep that had been travelling as part of a four-vehicle convoy.

Two US security personnel were killed instantly by the blast and a third died later.

Chanting

The BBC's James Rodgers witnessed the angry reaction to the American investigators' arrival.

"When the American diplomatic staff arrived, apparently to begin their investigation, the crowd had gathered, and gathered in a close circle around them.

"Some people then began chanting. Then they began throwing stones and the American personnel were forced at that point to withdraw.

"They ran back to their cars with the rocks bouncing off the roof of their cars and the Palestinian security forces then began firing into the air to disperse the crowd, to drive them away, in order to let the Americans leave."

Our correspondent also observed the Israeli reaction to the attack and the heightened tension in the area.

"The Israeli army have taken up positions in their tanks, just a short distance away from where I'm standing, perhaps preparing to secure the area and clear it out and take it under their control.

"There have been sporadic bursts of gunfire coming from that direction. There have also been Israeli helicopters and apparently reconnaissance aircraft in the skies over our head."

Overturned

The convoy of American diplomatic vehicles had just driven a short way into the Gaza Strip when the explosion struck with deadly force.

A witness at the scene said the explosion struck the third vehicle in the four-car convoy, a silver Cherokee jeep.

It was powerful enough to flip the vehicle over onto its roof, killing three occupants and leaving a burnt-out wreck.

One of the first reporters to arrive there was Israeli radio journalist Avi Isacharoff, who reached the scene two minutes after the explosion.

He told the BBC: "We heard it when we were about three kilometres from the checkpoint.

"It was completely wrecked. I could not recognise that it was one of the embassy cars. There were pieces of the car all over and pieces of bodies all over."

Other eye-witnesses reported that the vehicle's US diplomatic plates were still visible, as was a crater in the road where the bomb had exploded.




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