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Israel strike kills 2 radical Palestinians

Gaza attack brings promise of revenge

JERUSALEM -- An Israeli airstrike yesterday in the Gaza Strip killed two military leaders of radical Palestinian groups, including a senior member of the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades whose arrest Israel had demanded for months. The attack, hours after the Israeli Cabinet approved an arrangement that would open Gaza's border with Egypt, brought pledges of swift revenge.

The missile strike targeted a car carrying Hassan Madoun, 32, of Al Aqsa, and Fawzi Abu Qara, 37, of Hamas, in Gaza's Jebaliya refugee camp. Hospital officials said six bystanders were wounded in the attack, which broadened an Israeli offensive against armed Palestinian groups that had focused on the relatively small Islamic Jihad faction.

''Our pursuit of terrorists does not distinguish by political affiliation," said Raanan Gissin, a spokesman for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who said the men were ''on their way to prepare a suicide bombing" when they were killed. ''What we're facing today is a very broad front."

The Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades is the armed wing of Fatah, the secular party that fills out the bureaucratic ranks of the Palestinian Authority. Israeli officials had asked Palestinian officials on several occasions to arrest Madoun, whom they described as a prolific recruiter of suicide bombers behind at least three attacks that killed more than a dozen Israelis.

But Madoun was never detained. Israeli officials have held his case up as evidence that Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas is not serious about cracking down on the armed groups as called for in the US-backed peace plan known as the ''road map."

Israel suspended what it calls ''targeted killings" as part of an informal truce struck in February, under which armed Palestinian groups pledged to stop offensive operations. But eight days of attacks and reprisals have left the cease-fire in tatters.

''Our response will be what you see, not what you hear -- blood for blood," the military wing of Hamas said in a statement faxed to news organizations after the Jabaliya airstrike. ''The Israelis will come to know that our leaders' blood is not cheap."

Hamas leaders identified Abu Qara as a senior military leader who specialized in building the Qassam rockets that the group fires from Gaza into southern Israel. The leading Palestinian opposition movement, Hamas, rejects Israel's right to exist.

Earlier in the day, Israel's Cabinet approved an agreement that would reopen the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt to people, a step foreign diplomats have sought to ease the strip's isolation following Israel's withdrawal.

The arrangement calls for the deployment of monitors from the European Union to supervise operations at the crossing. Cargo would pass through the Israeli-operated terminal at Kerem Shalom where the borders of Egypt, Gaza, and Israel converge. But some issues remain unresolved. Palestinian officials want the right to export goods from Rafah, saying they are not subject to Israeli customs regulations. Israeli officials want to be able to monitor the Rafah crossing by remote camera, a demand Palestinians reject.

James Wolfensohn, a special envoy to the Middle East, criticized Israel last month in a letter and report to senior diplomats of the United Nations, the European Union, Russia, and the United States for not easing restrictions along Gaza's borders.

Wolfensohn has said improving Gaza's link to outside markets is essential to its economic development and stability. But little progress has been made on those issues

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