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Israeli Army Denies Involvement In Children's Death - 2001-11-22

Five Palestinian children were killed Thursday in an explosion close to their school in the southern Gaza Strip. Palestinian officials say the blast was caused when one of the youngsters kicked an unexploded Israeli tank shell lying on the ground. The Israeli army denies involvement in the incident.

The powerful explosion occurred just outside an elementary school run by the United Nations in the Khan Younis refugee camp.

The blast was set off when Palestinian children discovered an unexploded Israeli tank shell.

When the smoke cleared, the bodies of five young boys, all members of one extended family were found torn apart by the explosion.

The five ranging in age from 7 to 14 belonged to the al-Astal clan, one of the largest families in the area.

A spokesman for the Israeli army said there had been no tank fire in that area.

But Palestinian officials claimed that Israeli tanks stationed a few hundred meters away shelled the area.

Palestinian Cabinet Minister Ziad Abu Ziad said that Israel must end what he called "its siege" against Palestinian areas. "There must be a real effort to stop the sufferings of our people all over the Palestinian territories," he said. "These killings and destruction of houses and assassinations have to stop."

But Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Arieh Mekel says that the Israeli government cannot be held responsible for the deaths of the five Palestinian children. "It is clear that there was no Israeli shelling in that area today. It is also clear that there are no Israeli soldiers in Khan Younis. Therefore, we really have no idea what was the source of that explosion," he said.

In a separate incident Thursday, three armed Palestinians in a jeep crashed through the gates of an Israeli factory in the West Bank, near the town of Tulkarem.

The Palestinian gunmen opened fire wounding two workers before making their escape.

The latest violence came as U.S. envoys prepare to travel to the region in an effort to secure a cease-fire and move Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table.