Militants killed in Gaza strike

Witnesses say they saw a rocket hit a jeep carrying the two armed men, Nabil al-Saidi and Rabah Zakout, both aged 34, in the southern Tel al-Hawa neighbourhood in Gaza City.

Israel’s air force has confirmed it carried out the operation, saying the men were about to attack Israeli targets.

The strike came as the Israeli government promised to continue its policy of assassinating leaders of the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has warned that the army will not hesitate to fire on militants and will hunt them out.

“The right way is first to warn those who provide shelter to the terrorists and, if that does not help, to attack the sources of the fire no matter where,” Mr Sharon was quoted as saying during a cabinet meeting.

Violence is expected to worsen ahead of a planned evacuation of Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip and four West Bank settlements.

Hamas militants have promised to avenge the death of its figher Khaled Abu Salmieh, killed in an Israeli air strike in Gaza City on September 19.

The group has claimed responsibility for launching a makeshift rocket on the southern Israeli town of Sderot on September 20.

Military sources said the Qassam rocket – named after Hamas’ military wing – did not cause any casualties.

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Colin Powell will meet Israel’s foreign minister, Silvan Shalom, tomorrow in an effort to keep peacemaking hopes for the region alive.

Washington is keen to gain assurances from Israel that the PM’s Gaza withdrawal will be in line with last year’s US-backed peace plan, the so called ‘road map’ which envisages an end to violence and the creation of a Palestinian state by the end of 2005.

“We’ve always said that the disengagement plan should be consistent with the roadmap and not the end of the process,” US consul in Jerusalem, David Pearce, told the Palestinian daily Al-Quds.

Mr Sharon, though, has made it clear that his plan is designed to consolidate the Jewish presence in the West Bank, home to as many as 240,000 settlers.

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