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Palestinian rockets kill 3-year-old, injure nine

Militants misfire, strike boy's house

SDEROT, Israel -- Palestinians fired rockets yesterday at Israeli settlers gathered for a massive protest against the upcoming Gaza withdrawal, but missed, killing a 3-year-old Palestinian boy and wounding nine other Palestinians in Gaza.

Witnesses said militants fired three rockets at the Israeli town of Sderot, where thousands of Israelis had gathered for a peaceful demonstration. Two of the rockets fell in Palestinian areas and the third fell in an open field near Sderot.

Among the wounded were five children, ages 4 to 11. Four of the five were the children of Hisham Abdel Razek, a senior official in the ruling Fatah party and a former Palestinian Cabinet minister. Abdel Razek's wife was also wounded.

The dead boy was identified as Yasser Adnan Ashkar, who was killed when one of the stray rockets hit his family's home in Beit Hanoun, northeast of Gaza City. His 11-year-old brother Ali was in critical condition. Abdel Razek's family was visiting at the time, witnesses said. The house was severely damaged.

Minutes before the rockets were fired, Palestinian militants shot an antitank rocket at an Israeli convoy traveling to the isolated Israeli settlement of Netzarim, settlers and the army said. There were no reports of injuries.

The violent Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine claimed responsibility for the attack on the convoy.

Militant attacks against Israelis had dropped off after a February truce between Israel and the Palestinians. In recent weeks, however, as the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza approaches, militants have stepped up attacks to try to portray the Israeli pullout as a military victory for the Palestinians.

The rockets were fired toward Sderot as the rally there was ending. Although the Israelis gathered in Sderot had pledged a peaceful protest, settler leaders said they planned to defy a military order and lead their followers on a march to Gaza's settlements today.

More than 15,000 police and soldiers took up positions in southern Israel to prevent the marchers from reaching Gaza, which has been declared a closed military zone.

The protest march would be the settlers' second effort in two weeks to breach the barricades preventing them from getting into the Gush Katif settlement bloc in southern Gaza. If they fall short again, it would be a devastating blow to the protest movement.

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