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Israeli strikes kill 7 Palestinians

Target of missile attack hurt; CNN staffer kidnapped

JERUSALEM -- Israelis killed seven Palestinians in attacks yesterday, including a Gaza airstrike that killed one militant and wounded a militia commander, who vowed revenge from his hospital bed.

An Israeli helicopter fired a missile at a car east of the city of Khan Younis, killing Ali al-Shaer, a member of the Popular Resistance Committees, an umbrella of dissidents from several militant groups.

But Israeli military sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the target was the other occupant of the car -- Mohammed Abu Nasira, southern Gaza commander of the group.

''The [Israeli] crimes will not pass without punishment," Abu Nasira said by telephone from the hospital, where he was being treated for serious burns. ''I will continue my mission to terrorize the enemy [Israel], and we will win the battle."

Hundreds of people gathered around the white vehicle after the missile blast burned the passenger compartment, twisting the chassis but leaving the front half intact. An Israeli military statement said only that the raid targeted ''a vehicle carrying a senior operative" responsible for many attacks.

The Popular Resistance group was behind explosions that destroyed two Israeli tanks and is thought by some to have been involved in a similar blast that destroyed a vehicle in a US Embassy convoy a year ago, killing three security guards.

Two other people were wounded in the airstrike, one of dozens Israel has directed at Palestinian militants in four years of violence. Israel calls them self-defense strikes against potential terrorists, but Palestinians and human rights groups denounce them as summary executions.

At nightfall, Palestinian gunmen kidnapped a producer for the TV network CNN at gunpoint, the network's correspondent, Ben Wedeman, said. In a CNN broadcast from Gaza, Wedeman said the gunmen stopped a CNN van and extracted Riad Ali.

Wedeman, who said he was also in the van, did not know why Ali was kidnapped, and CNN was trying to win his release. In a statement, the network said, ''We have not heard from Ali's abductors but urge them to release Riad immediately."

Palestinian militant groups denied involvement. A statement on the Hamas website called for Ali's release, saying that journalists ''are playing an important role to help the Palestinian cause."

Israeli Arab journalist Rafik Halabi said Ali had not been harmed. ''What I know is that Riad, my good friend and colleague, is alive and well," Halabi told Army Radio. The station said contact had been made with the kidnappers but gave no details.

After the kidnapping, the Israeli military closed the main crossing from Israel into Gaza, used by Palestinians, diplomats, and reporters, ''following security assessments and security alerts."

In recent months, there have been several kidnappings in the West Bank and Gaza as the authority of Yasser Arafat's police wanes. But up until now, foreign correspondents and their crews have rarely been bothered by Palestinian militants.

Earlier yesterday in Gaza, Israeli soldiers fired machine guns at the Khan Younis refugee camp, killing a 55-year-old civilian standing at a school gate, Palestinian security officials said.

The military said the only known shooting there was aimed at a Palestinian who appeared to be planting a bomb.

Near the Jebaliya refugee camp next to Gaza City, troops killed two armed Palestinians. The men, who were carrying explosives, were crawling in a no-go zone near the border fence with Israel when soldiers opened fire, the army said.

In what is becoming a daily routine, Palestinians fired homemade rockets at the Israeli town of Sderot, just outside Gaza. Two residents were treated for shock.

In the West Bank, a Jewish settler shot and killed a Palestinian taxi driver. He told police the taxi tried to run him off the road, but Palestinian witnesses said the settler ambushed the taxi and opened fire for no reason.

The Israeli was arrested.

In the nearby Balata refugee camp, troops shot dead two Palestinians, witnesses said. The military said soldiers fired at two armed men who were approaching an army post.

Elsewhere yesterday, Deputy Defense Minister Zeev Boim of Israel accused President Bashar Assad of Syria of direct involvement in terrorism but stopped short of confirming that Israel was responsible for killing Hamas leader Izz El-Dine Khalil in a car bomb in Damascus on Sunday.

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