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Last Updated: Saturday, 10 July, 2004, 23:22 GMT 00:22 UK
Four dead in Gaza car explosion
Wreckage of a car after it exploded in Gaza
Palestinians say the car was hit by a helicopter or tank shell
Four people have been killed by an explosion in a car near Gaza City, Palestinian doctors have said.

Three people died inside the vehicle, which was left twisted and smoking on Gaza's coastal road in al-Zahra, while a fourth was killed on a motorcycle.

A Palestinian group named the three in the car and said they were militants. It was also reported that the motorcyclist was a member of Hamas.

But Israel has denied the explosion was a targeted attack.

One Israeli security source said the blast appeared to have happened when explosives being carried in the car blew up prematurely.

'Hard to identify bodies'

Palestinian security sources told the AFP news agency that the three in the car - members of the Popular Resistance Committees, an umbrella militant group - were Hassan Abu Dalal, Mohammed Abu Zur and Mahmud Abu Namus, all aged about 20.

The source said the man on the motorbike was a Hamas activist, Mahmud Nasser.

One report said three other people were wounded in the blast, one of them seriously.

Ibrahim al-Musder, director of Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir el-Balah, said four dead bodies were brought in, together with an injured victim.

"The bodies of the people killed arrived in very bad shape, which makes it hard for the moment to identify them," he said.

Helicopters overhead

The Palestinian public security directorate in Gaza at first said the car had been hit by a missile from an Apache helicopter, then that a tank shell had caused the damage.

The Israeli army said it was checking the reports.

It confirmed that helicopters were in the area, and told the AP news agency that one of them had fired a warning shot towards Palestinian gunmen, but not at any car.

The army said Israeli forces and Palestinians had been clashing in the area, around the Jewish settlement of Netzarim, in the hours before the explosion.

The BBC's Alan Johnston
"There'll be speculation that the car was carrying a bomb"

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