Two Young Children Killed in Qassam Strike in Sderot

Victims aged 2 and 4, from same family; 31 hurt; Hamas claims attack; IDF splits Gaza into three; 10 Palestinians killed in territories.

Two young children were killed and 31 others were wounded when two Qassam rockets fired from the Gaza Strip struck the Negev town of Sderot around 5 P.M. on Wednesday evening.

Dorit Aniso, 2, and Yuval Abebeh, 4, were wounded in the strike and died of their injuries shortly afterward. The two were close relatives.

The rocket landed between two buildings in a residential area of the town as Israelis were preparing for the Sukkot harvest festival to begin. Two other rockets were fired at the same time, Army Radio reported.

Hamas claimed responsibility for the strike, which came on a day in which six Palestinians were reported killed during an Israel Defense Forces raid in the northern Gaza Strip aimed at preventing the firing of the Qassam rockets.

Later Wednesday evening, three Palestinians were killed in an IDF missile strike in Gaza.

The two children had been playing under an olive tree outside Abebeh's grandmother's house, emergency workers and neighbors said. The blast also blew out the windows of a house and showered a minibus with shrapnel.

Most residents of the neighborhood are immigrants from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia.

Those wounded in the Sderot strike were taken to Barzilai Hospital in Ashkelon and Soroka Medical Center in Be'er Sheva. One person was treated for serious injuries, 14 for light-to-moderate wounds and the remainder for shock.

After the strike, Sderot residents gathered in the area where the Qassam fell, some shouting, "Death to Arabs."

A local man, Ronen Edri, reached the site of the attack immediately after the rockets fell. He said that he saw a boy with head and body wounds lying in the street and tried to give him first aid.

"There was a great deal of hysteria all around," he said. "People were screaming and crying from shock. I tried to stem the boy's bleeding, and then Magen David Adom [ambulance] personnel arrived and took him away."

"After the rocket fell, a man, maybe 20 years old, took the boy in his arms. He was in shock. He ran with the boy, he didn't know what to do," said Zina Shurov, 48, a neighbor.

"I saw one little child without his legs. We tried to help the other one but it was too late," said neighbor Haviv Ben Abbo, who rushed to the scene when he heard the boom. "All our town is crying."

Shortly after the rocket hit the Negev town, an Israel Air Force helicopter fired a missile close to the Jabalya refugee camp in northern Gaza. Army Radio reported earlier that the rocket fire had originated from the camp. No casualties were reported

Army Radio said that the helicopter had fired at a group of militants in the Jabalya region, who were trying to launch more Qassam rockets.

Several hours later, an IAF helicopter fired a missile at the Jabalya camp, killing three people, including a policeman, and wounding at least eight others.

Moments afterward, a Palestinian charity office was bombed and destroyed in a separate IAF helicopter strike in Gaza City, which caused no casualties, witnesses said.

The IDF said the charity, run by Islamic Jihad, funded terror attacks.

IDF troops also sealed off the artery roads in Gaza on Wednesday evening, splitting the Strip into three sections.

Later Wednesday evening, a Qassam landed in an Israeli settlement in the southern Gaza Strip. The rocket caused no damage or injuries, Israel Radio reported.

'Serious terrorist attack'Prime Minister Ariel Sharon spoke to Sderot Mayor Eli Muyal following the strike, which he termed a "serious terrorist attack," Army Radio reported. Sharon told the mayor that Israel would respond with severity to the strike, the radio said.

"The attack in Sderot is another brutal reminder of Palestinian terrorism, which is doing its utmost to try to prevent an Israeli withdrawal [from Gaza]," David Baker, an official in the Prime Minister's Office, told Haaretz. "No nation would tolerate such horrific attacks on its citizens and we will take whatever steps are necessary to protect our citizens."

"We should stop the disengagement process and seize all positions opposite Sderot," said Likud MK Ehud Yatom, an opponent of Sharon's plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and parts of the northern West Bank.

The police were planning to bolster the number of troops in the area in the wake of the attack. Police commissioner Moshe Karadi offered to send police psychologists to help Sderot residents deal with the incident, Army Radio reported.

Two soldiers wounded, several Palestinians killedEarly Wednesday morning, two IDF soldiers from the Shimshon Battalion were lightly wounded in a mortar attack on the Gaza settlement of Netzarim. The wounded soldiers were treated at Soroka Medical Center.

A Qassam rocket crashed into hothouses belonging to the Ganei Tal settlement in Gush Katif mid-afternoon Wednesday, lightly wounding a female Palestinian employee.

Other mortar shells were fired Tuesday night and Wednesday at settlements in the Gush Katif area of the Gaza Strip, causing no casualties or damage.

In the West Bank, a Fatah militant was killed by IDF fire Wednesday, and two others were killed while being chased by troops.

The IDF contingent in Gaza, meanwhile, took up positions in the environs of the town of Beit Hanun and the Jabalya refugee camp to its west. The operation follows the continued shelling of the western Negev town of Sderot.

A Palestinian preparing to launch a Qassam rocket in Jabalya was killed Wednesday by a missile fired by an Israel Air Force helicopter, the IDF said. The rocket launcher was also destroyed.

Earlier, a 14-year-old Palestinian boy was shot and killed by IDF troops near Jabalya, Palestinians said.

They said at least 15 other Palestinians aged 12 to 21, many of them students in school uniforms, had been wounded by IDF troops after they threw stones at IDF jeeps and armored vehicles.

Palestinians also said a 22-year-old Hamas militant, Tawfiq Ali Sharafi, was killed in an exchange of fire with IDF forces near Jabalya overnight while he was trying to set an explosive. Three gunmen were wounded in exchanges of fire.

Last week the firing of rockets from the Gaza Strip into Israel intensified, and previous agreements between Israel and various Palestinian Authority security organizations failed to restrict the escalation.

This is the 12th IDF operation in the northern Gaza Strip in the past three months, when it was decided to deploy troops to contain the rocket attacks.

To date, there has been no significant long-term success in the operations.

Reports of a large mechanized IDF force entering the northern Gaza Strip were received close to midnight Tuesday. The force, estimated to be brigade size, includes Givati, Golani, armor and combat engineering units. Commanding the force is Colonel Avi Levy, commander of the Northern Gaza Brigade.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz authorized the IDF plan for the operation in view of the strain experienced by the civilians of Sderot.

Mofaz visited the town earlier this week, and was told by angry residents that the government must take severe measures to ensure that the Qassams are no longer fired against them.

Mayor Muyal claimed that if European countries faced a threat similar to that of his town, "Beit Hanun would have been wiped out off the face of the earth."

It appears that the IDF plans to hold the ground it now occupies until the end of the Sukkot holiday, and by then reach some deal with the Palestinian security forces to prevent the Palestinians from firing rockets against Sderot.

One of the problems of previous extensive IDF stays inside Palestinian areas, as experienced in the last incursion near Jabalya two weeks ago, is that the force comes under growing Palestinian attacks involving dozens of anti-tank missiles. Such a possibility would necessitate yet another redeployment.

Wanted man killed in Nablus, two others in JeninTwo Palestinians were killed in the northern West Bank city of Jenin when Border Police troops opened fire on their vehicle after they refused orders to stop. A third female passenger was arrested.

IDF troops operating in Nablus early Wednesday morning killed Majdi Halifa, a wanted Fatah militant, Israel Radio said.

The troops had stormed the Nablus neighborhood of Jab'l Shibli in order to arrest another suspect, and when Halifa tried to escape the troops shot and killed him.

Halifa had been involved in a number of suicide attacks, as well as shooting incidents, Israel Radio said.

IDF troops surrounded a home in the West Bank city of Jenin and arrested a man thought to be an aide to Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades' city commander Zakariya Zubeidi.

The soldiers then demolished Zubeidi's family's home in the city.