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Israel unleashes full fury, baby dies

Gaza, June 12 (Reuters): An Israeli missile strike in the Gaza Strip today killed seven people, including a senior Hamas militant, his wife and three-year-old daughter, amid a surge in violence that has undermined US-led peace efforts.

In the West Bank, Palestinian gunmen shot and killed an Israeli, who was found dead in his car near the West Bank village of Yabed, military sources said.

The violence came one day after a Palestinian suicide bombing killed 16 people on a Jerusalem bus and Israeli air raids killed 11 in the Gaza Strip in one of the bloodiest days in months of conflict.

An Israeli security source said the missile strike followed a defence ministry order for the army “to use everything they have” against the Islamic militant group Hamas, which claimed responsibility for the bus bombing and vowed further attacks. Helicopters fired six missiles into Gaza City, reducing a Subaru car to charred metal and injuring more than 40 bystanders, witnesses said.

Palestinian sources identified the dead militant as Yasser Taha, a senior member of Hamas’ military wing wanted by Israel. The sources said his wife and three-year-old daughter also died in the strike.

A baby bottle and child’s shoes were pulled from the car's wreckage and people filled the streets shouting for revenge.

“These are killers of children, women, innocent people...Let us wait and see who is going to destroy the other,” said senior Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahar.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon vowed at a Cabinet meeting to press ahead with attacks against Hamas. “This targeted killing is just the beginning,” the Israeli security source said.

Palestinian President Yasser Arafat called on members of the Quartet behind the road map to peace — the US, the EU, the UN, and Russia — to intervene.

“We are in need of strong pressure to stop this aggression against our people,” Arafat said.

But the White House, while rebuking Israel yesterday for trying to assassinate a Hamas leader, today put the blame for the violence on Palestinian militants. “The issue is not Israel, the issue is not the Palestinian Authority, the issue is the terrorists who are killing in an attempt to stop the (peace) process,” said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer. “The issue is Hamas, the terrorists are Hamas,” he said.

Hamas earlier had warned foreigners to leave Israel for their own safety. A 46-year-old American from Cleveland, Ohio, was among the 16 killed in yesterday’s bus bombing in Jerusalem.

Today’s missile strike came after Sharon ratcheted up the rhetoric amid growing doubts about the peace “road map” promoted earlier this month at a landmark Israeli-Palestinian summit. It calls for an end to violence and a Palestinian state by 2005.

“(Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas) is a chick without feathers. We have to help him fight terror until his feathers grow,” a source quoted Sharon telling an emergency meeting of his Right-wing Cabinet. Sharon, criticising Abbas for failing to rein in militants as mandated by the road map, described Palestinian leaders as “crybabies who let terror run rampant”, the source said.

Palestinian Cabinet minister Ziad Abu Amr said the Israeli leader was “throwing out silly descriptions and silly allegations” to cover his failure to seek a diplomatic solution.

Palestinian officials have said Israeli military operations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have weakened Palestinian security forces and made it impossible for them to tackle militants.

US West Asia envoy John Wolf will leave for the region this weekend to try and save Washington’s peace plan, a state department official said.

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