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Israeli strike kills 4 Palestinian militants

Resistance group vows revenge for Gaza Strip attack

GAZA CITY -- Israeli missiles fired from the air ripped apart two cars in the Gaza Strip yesterday, killing four Palestinian militants and wounding five other people including an Islamic Jihad spokesman, the military and Palestinians said.

The airstrikes in eastern Gaza City were Israel's third and fourth since it renewed the practice of targeting militants after a deadly suicide bombing in Israel on Dec. 5.

Altogether, seven militants have been killed.

The Israeli missile set off explosives in the car, the military said, blasting it to pieces. Israeli Army footage filmed by a drone aircraft showed a huge column of black smoke above the vehicle.

Israel said the militants, from the Popular Resistance Committees, were on their way to attack the Karni cargo crossing, a vital lifeline for Palestinian imports and exports.

A Popular Resistance spokesman who goes by the name of Abu Saed vowed revenge. ''The blood shed by the Zionists will not be shed in vain," he said. ''We will retaliate and send them the message that Palestinian sacrifice does not come cheap."

The group was behind several deadly attacks against Israelis in Gaza, and some link PRC with an October 2003 bombing that killed three US Marine guards in a US embassy convoy in Gaza.

The second strike came after nightfall. Khader Habib, an Islamic Jihad spokesman, was slightly wounded when an Israeli missile was fired at his car, Islamic Jihad official Omar Shallah said, pledging to continue the struggle against Israel.

Late yesterday and early today, Israeli artillery and aircraft also pounded northern Gaza, where militants fired rockets at Israel. Two Palestinians were wounded.

The first airstrike interrupted a news conference by Hamas at which leaders of the militant Islamic group were presenting their list of candidates for the parliamentary election, the first in a decade -- and the first time Hamas is running. Hamas has done well in three rounds of local elections in the past few months and expected a strong showing in West Bank municipal elections today.

The group has been building strength partly because of the bumbling of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah Party, unable to clean up rampant corruption, combat widespread poverty, or take advantage of Israel's pullout from Gaza and part of the West Bank in the summer.

Hamas ideology does not accept a place for a Jewish state in the Middle East, and its suicide bombers have killed hundreds of Israelis over five years of conflict. However, Hamas has largely kept a truce Abbas negotiated in February, showing its practical side.

Ismail Haniyeh headed Hamas' list of candidates. Haniyeh's pragmatism is relative -- he does not recognize Israel or favor peace talks -- but he has often expressed his support for the truce, expiring at the end of December.

Hamas hard-liner Mahmoud Zahar was relegated to the ninth slot. Ten women were among the 62 candidates, including widows of two Hamas notables killed in Israeli strikes -- Jamila Shanti, wife of Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi, and Mona Mansour, widow of a West Bank Hamas leader.

Fatah infighting has led to attacks on polling places during primary elections and, in recent days, assaults on election commission offices.

Yesterday, gunmen struck at a Fatah headquarters, exchanging fire with the bodyguards of a party leader. Three people were wounded.

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