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Three young Palestinian cousins were killed on Wednesday in northern Gaza when the Israel Defense Forces attacked rocket launchers aimed at southern Israel.

Ten-year-old Mahmoud Ghazal and his 12-year-old cousin Yehiya Ghazal died immediately, medical sources in the Gaza Strip said. Their 10-year-old cousin Sara Ghazal was critically hurt in the strike, and died later from her wounds.

The Qassam launchers were deployed near Beit Hanun, on fields just outside the town's industrial zone. The children's family, which belongs to the Gaza's Bedouin population, lives nearby.

The civilian area is frequently used by Palestinian militants to launch rocket attacks against southern Israel. The army said 92 rockets and 118 mortars fell in Israel over the past month.

Palestinian sources did not say whether the children were hired by militants to retrieve the launchers, or whether they approached the launchers out of curiosity. The IDF said the children were killed after an army tank fired on a Qassam launcher. According to the IDF, the tank's crew detected "unidentified movement and opened fire."

In a statement, the Israeli military said it "wishes to express sorrow" for the "use of teenagers in terror attacks." In the past the military has accused militants of sending children to pick up their rocket launchers, but it did not explicitly say the three dead children in Wednesday's incident were directly involved.

"The strike was the result of children being located in the area and aiding terror groups that are doing nothing to distance them from there," according to a statement issued by the army's spokesman.

A relative of the children, Wasfi Ghazal, said he heard the sound of an explosion and then children screaming. He held both Israel and the militant rocket squads responsible.

"We are victims of the occupation and victims of the misbehavior of some of the fighters who are randomly choosing our area to target Israel," he told The Associated Press.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat condemned the killing of the children, predicting violence would breed more violence. "This will add to the complexities and feed the fire," Erekat said.

Taher Nunu, a spokesman for the Islamic militant group Hamas that rules Gaza, said the attack on the heels of the meeting between Palestinian Authority Chairmn Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Tuesday reaffirms Israel's aggressive intentions and its disinterest in reaching an understanding with the Palestinians. He called on Abbas to stop meeting with Olmert.

About two hours earlier, a Qassam rocket was launched from the Gaza Strip into Israel and landed in fields just north of Kibbutz Nir-Am in the western Negev. The rocket did not cause any damage. On Tuesday, a Qassam rocket fired by Palestinian militants in Gaza struck a home in the western Negev town of Sderot, lightly wounding one person.

In the West Bank, some 30 Palestinians were lightly wounded during an IDF arrest raid in the city of Qalqilyah.

Palestinian sources said most people's wounds were from tear gas and rubber-coated steel bullets fired by IDF troops in the course of the operation.

Troops surrounded a cluster of houses in which the IDF said a wanted militant was hiding.

The troops called over loudspeakers for the militant to surrender, but were met with no response. During the operation IDF bulldozers demolished two of the houses in the compound in an attempt to force him out.

The militant managed to escape, but troops arrested another man who threw explosives at them.

The operation comes despite a renewed diplomatic drive to forge an agreement with Abbas and his Fatah-led government in the West Bank.

Olmert and Abbas met Tuesday in Jerusalem for broad talks that touched on the thorniest final-status issues dividing the sides' final borders, the future of Jerusalem, and Palestinian refugees.