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13 Palestinians killed in Gaza strike

Most were tied to Hamas group, witnesses say

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- Israeli helicopters attacked a Hamas training field yesterday morning, killing at least 13 Palestinians and wounding 25 in the bloodiest strike in Gaza in months, officials from both sides said. Most of the casualties allegedly were members of the anti-Israeli militant group.

The attack occurred a week after Hamas carried out a double suicide bombing in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba, killing 16 Israelis and breaking a six-month lull in major violence against the Jewish state. The suicide bombers were from the West Bank city of Hebron.

Israeli spy satellite plunges into the Mediterranean Sea. A11.

The Israeli military said the air force targeted the field, near the border with Israel, that was being used by Hamas for bomb assembly and training.

Angry Hamas militants gathered at Shifa Hospital in Gaza City -- some with blood on their clothes from carrying victims -- shouting ''revenge, revenge."

''This bloody crime is a new wave of aggression committed against our people and against our sons," Hamas spokesman Mushir al-Masri said. ''It's an ongoing war, one day for us and one day for them."

The Israeli statement listed activity that it said had taken place at the field in recent days, including the assembly of a large bomb and a suicide bomber's vest, practice in hijacking vehicles, and training in preparing and firing mortars and rockets.

Masri denied that the targeted field was used for training, calling it a summer camp for Palestinian youth.

Hospital officials said at least 13 people were killed and 25 wounded. Witnesses said the casualties were members of the Hamas military wing or supporters. Many wore military-style uniforms.

The airstrike was in the Shajaiyeh section of Gaza City, a known stronghold of Hamas. The casualty toll was the highest in Gaza City since May, when heavy fighting killed 31 Palestinians and 13 Israeli soldiers.

Yesterday, Israel's defense minister, Shaul Mofaz, said meanwhile that he is moving another planned section of the West Bank separation barrier closer to Israel. Israel says it needs the barrier to keep out suicide bombers.

The barrier is part of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's contentious plan of ''unilateral disengagement" from the Palestinians, including a withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and the evacuation of four small West Bank settlements in 2005. Sharon has said he wants to keep several large West Bank settlements as part of any future peace deal.

One-third of the 425-mile barrier has already been built in the northern West Bank, but army planners have redrawn parts of the remaining route farther to the south to comply with the court order. Palestinians have contended that the wall's path in the north has cut them off from their land and other services.

Israel began construction of the southern segment of the barrier after Palestinian suicide bombers blew up two buses in Beersheba Aug 28. Israel said, however, that the blasts did not play a role in the timing of the new construction.

The original plan in the south was to cut into the West Bank in several places to include some Jewish settlements on the ''Israeli" side, but Mofaz said yesterday this was being changed.

''In light of the Supreme Court [rulings], we decided to plan another route that in principle ran along the Green Line," Mofaz told Army Radio, referring to Israel's old frontier, before it captured the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war.

Jewish settlements that find themselves on the ''Palestinian" side will be encircled by separate fences, Mofaz said.

Sharon reportedly wanted to include some of these settlements on the Israeli side. A Sharon adviser, Raanan Gissin, said that no final decision has been made but that he did not expect major changes to the route proposed by Mofaz.

The barrier has disrupted the lives of thousands of Palestinians, cutting them off from schools, jobs, and land. Earlier this year, the Israeli Supreme Court ordered changes in the planned route to ease hardships.

Palestinians object to the barrier in principle, calling it an ''apartheid wall" meant to dictate borders, effectively annexing parts of the West Bank to Israel.

The world court has issued an advisory ruling calling the barrier illegal, saying it should be torn down.

Israel dismissed the ruling as one-sided and politically motivated, but Israel's attorney general has said the ruling can't be ignored. The Supreme Court ordered the government to state how it is dealing with it.

Israel broke ground Sunday on a 25-mile stretch that officials said would run along the Green Line.

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