GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip Oct. 6, 2004 — Israel stepped up airstrikes in its Gaza offensive, killing an Islamic Jihad leader and bringing to 75 the number of Palestinians killed in the operation to end rocket fire on Israeli towns.
With troops and tanks on Tuesday holding a buffer zone in northern Gaza designed to move its towns out of Palestinian rocket range, Israel sent its air force to kill a top militant Bashir Aldabash, 40.
The military said he was the commander of the military wing of Islamic Jihad in Gaza and responsible for “dozens of terrorist attacks and attempted attacks” that killed eight Israelis.
The first missile missed, but the second hit the vehicle, which burst into flames. The burning vehicle drove for about 100 yards before it came to a stop.
Another Islamic Jihad militant was killed in that airstrike, and a few hours later, a second Israeli missile attack killed two members of the violent Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades.
The Israelis say that “targeted killings” of militant leaders are part of their offensive in Gaza.
Palestinians and human rights groups charge that the airstrikes are extrajudicial executions, but Israel claims they fit into its right of self defense by preventing attacks.
Since the operation began, 75 Palestinians have been killed, but Palestinian officials said nearly half were civilians, including women and children.
Early Wednesday, a father and son were killed when an Israeli tank shell hit their house next to Jebaliya camp. Israeli military sources said soldiers returned fire at a building where militants shot an anti-tank rocket at them.
Also, a 15-year-old youth shot on Tuesday died of his wounds, doctors said. Residents said he was standing on the balcony of his house next to the Jebaliya cap when he was shot in the head.
In Washington, Secretary of State Colin Powell said he hoped the Israeli campaign in northern Gaza the deadliest there in four years of Israeli-Palestinian fighting would end soon.
“The immediate problem right now is that Israeli built-up areas are being hit by rockets and (Israeli Prime Minister Ariel) Sharon finds a need to respond to that. I hope it does not expand,” Powell said. “And I hope … that this operation can come to a conclusion quickly.”
At the United Nations, the United States vetoed a Security Council resolution condemning the Israeli raid. U.S. Ambassador John Danforth called it “lopsided and unbalanced,” because it did not mention Palestinian rocket attacks.
Israel absorbed a blow in the international arena on Tuesday, but it was self-inflicted.
After trumpeting a picture from a pilotless drone aircraft purporting to show a Palestinian loading a rocket into a U.N ambulance, the Israeli military admitted it wasn’t sure about the fuzzy image.
The charge elicited a hot denial from UNRWA, the U.N. agency that aides Palestinian refugees. Its officials said the man in the picture was a rescue worker, and he was loading a stretcher, not a rocket.
“There are doubts among the experts continuing to this moment,” head of operations, Maj. Gen. Israel Ziv told reporters. “Some think this is a type of weapon, others think there is quite a high probability this is a harmless object.”
The army removed the video from its Web site.
Sharon aide Raanan Gissin said the army may have been too hasty in publicizing the footage, but other, undisclosed evidence linked the United Nations with Palestinian militants.
The latest argument highlighted the deep suspicions and long-running antagonism between Israel and the United Nations.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said there was no reason to believe the rocket accusation, but he sent a team to look into procedures in general and the Israeli charges in particular.