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Israeli and Palestinian killed

Missile strike follows attack

GAZA CITY -- An Israeli missile strike killed one Palestinian and wounded five early today, hours after militants killed an Israeli-American woman in the first deadly shelling of a Jewish settlement in Gaza in four years of fighting.

The settlement attack, which came just before the start of Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, was likely to mobilize further opposition to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip next year. The militant Hamas group claimed responsibility for firing two mortars at the Neve Dekalim settlement in southern Gaza.

A Hamas video showed three masked militants setting up and firing a mortar. After the shell was fired, heavy gunfire could be heard -- apparently the Israeli return fire at the nearby Palestinian town of Khan Younis. The Israeli fire wounded two Palestinians, including a 4-year-old boy, witnesses said.

One of the Hamas mortars hit a house in Neve Dekalim, wounding two women who were taken to a hospital in southern Israel for treatment. One of the women, identified as Tiferet Tratner, died of her wounds, and the second was slightly hurt. Eran Sternberg, a settler spokesman in Gaza, said Tratner also held US citizenship.

In the early hours today, an Israeli helicopter fired two missiles toward a group of Palestinians on the outskirts of a nearby refugee camp. Hospital officials said the dead and wounded were civilians.

Later, about 70 tanks and army bulldozers drove toward the Khan Younis camp, setting off heavy exchanges of fire, as soldiers called on residents over loudspeakers to leave their homes, witnesses said. Palestinians detonated a roadside bomb next to one bulldozer, setting the front of the vehicle on fire.

The Israeli military said the helicopter opened fire when four militants tried to launch a rocket or a rocket-propelled grenade from that area. The military said at least two of those involved in the launch were hit.

Palestinians have fired hundreds of crude mortars and rockets at Jewish settlements in Gaza and Israeli border towns since 2000, but yesterday's attack marked the first time a resident of a Gaza settlement was killed. In June, two Israelis were killed in a rocket attack on the Israel town of Sderot.

Eli Moses, a resident of Neve Dekalim, said Sharon is to blame because he is going ahead with a plan to withdraw Israeli troops and settlers from Gaza. "We want to emphasize that the prime minister is directly responsible for the death," Moses told Israel Radio. "Whoever fired the mortar is of course responsible, but there's a person above him and unfortunately that's the prime minister."

The shelling came a day after Palestinians killed three Israeli soldiers in an attack on the nearby Morag settlement in southern Gaza. After a protracted gun battle, the three attackers were killed by the army. The Gaza clashes point to increasing tensions and violence ahead of Israel's planned withdrawal.

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