Five members of an Israeli family - a pregnant mother and her four young hildren - were killed Sunday afternoon in a Palestinian shooting attack on their vehicle while they were traveling on the road that leads to the Gaza Strip settlement bloc of Gush Katif.
The victims of the terror attack were identified as mother Tali Hatuel, 34, and her daughters Hila, 11, Hadar, 9, Roni, 7, and Merav, 2.
Tali Hatuel, a resident of the Katif settlement, was a social worker for the Gaza Coast Regional Council. She was eight months pregnant, Israel Radio reported.
The five were laid to rest Sunday evening in Ashkelon. Several thousand mourners, including President Moshe Katzav, attended the family's funeral in the southern Israeli town.
Standing over the shrouded bodies of his wife and daughters, David Hatuel asked for their forgiveness for spending time away from home lobbying against the plan to pull out from Gaza.
"On Friday [the girls] drew me a picture and wrote 'Daddy, we are proud of what you are doing for the home where we were born'," he said. "You were my flowers and I will not forget you," he said, sobbing.
The Israel Defense Forces said that it had received a warning of a possible attack in the area some 20 minutes before the ambush and immediately bolstered forces in the area, Israel Radio reported.
The Islamic Jihad and Popular Resistance Committees, an umbrella organization of militant groups linked to Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction, claimed responsibility for the "heroic" attack in a call to The Associated Press. The two terrorists were named as Ibrahim Hamed and Faisal Abuntera, residents of Rafah in the southern Strip.
A resident of Gush Katif settlement Kfar Darom said the family was on its way to campaign against Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan. The attack took place the same day as the party referendum on the pullout from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank.
Sharon said the attack was the Palestinians' method of disrupting the disengagement plan. The prime minister vowed Israel would continue to fight Palestinian terror.
Police said the Hatuels' white Citroen station wagon spun off the road after the initial shooting, then the attackers approached the vehicle and shot the occupants at close range.
Another Israeli civilian, a resident of Ohad in the Eshkol region, traveling in a separate car suffered moderate gunfire wounds in the attack near the Netzer Hazani settlement. He manage to put his car in reverse and flee the scene of the attack.
An Israeli sniper positioned nearby killed one of the terrorists and troops called to the scene charged the second and shot him dead. Two Givati Brigade infantrymen suffered serious-to-moderate wounds during the exchange of fire.
An explosive device was detonated near the site of the shooting while the IDF troops were chasing the terrorists, but it caused no injuries.
The wounded were airlifted by air force helicopter to Soroka Medical Center in Be'er Sheva.
The Hatuels' car was riddled with bullets, and the carpet inside was stained with blood. Israel Radio reported the mother had been on her way to protest against Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's Gaza withdrawal plan. On the car was a bumper sticker saying, "Uprooting the settlements, victory for terror."
GOC Southern Command Major General Dan Harel said a number of Palestinian terror cells took part in the attack. Around 1 P.M. they opened fire on nearby IDF positions along the road then one of the cells moved towards the road and began shooting at Israeli vehicles.
Israeli tanks moved into the area following the attack, and army bulldozers reportedly destroyed a number of buildings near the road.
The Resistance Committees said the attack was in response to Israel's recent assassinations of the founder of the Hamas militant group, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, and his successor, Abdel Aziz Rantisi.
"The attack is part of the Palestinian reprisals for the daily crimes committed by the Israeli army against the Palestinian people, especially the killings of Yassin and Rantisi," the group said.
Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz canceled scheduled appearances Sunday and was expected to meet with top security officials to plan a response to the attack, military sources said.
Cabinet minister Gideon Ezra said the attack underscored the hopeless burden of staying in Gaza. "Our soldiers can't be in every car that moves in the Gaza Strip," he said.
"Thousands of soldiers are required to protect" the settlers, he said. "I would put our soldiers in other places."
Likud MK Yuval Steinitz said the attack did not make the disengagement plan any less necessary.
Likud MK Ehud Yatom said the killing of the Hatuels must enhance the fierce opposition to the plan to evacuate settlements from the Gaza Strip.
The attack was the first to kill Israeli civilians in Gaza in more than a year.
CNN: Film crew tried to warn familyCNN said the Palestinian terrorists opened fire on one of its film crews working near Gush Katif in Gaza.
The CNN crew said that after fleeing the terrorists, they attempted to warn and stop unsuspecting Israeli civilian vehicles leaving Gush Katif in the direction of the terrorists. They did not successfully stop the mother and four daughters who drove past the armored CNN vehicle and were subsequently gunned down by the terrorists.
"Four of us in the CNN crew were driving from Israel on the main road going into the Gush Katif settlement bloc in Gaza," CNN's Paula Hancocks told Israel Radio. "We came under fire. Multiple rounds were fired at our car, the first one an armored car that I was in. My producer sitting on the near side said he saw two gunmen shooting and running towards our armored car. Behind, our cameraman was in a non-armored car, in a normal Land Rover. He was also shot at but luckily he escaped unhurt.
"We drove on to the nearest army checkpoint, told them what happened, stopped the cars from coming the other way. Then they sent the soldiers and the ambulances in to see what had happened."
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