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Palestinian Girl Killed as Israeli Soldiers Fire at Gaza Refugee Camp - 2003-08-30

Israeli troops have shot dead an 8-year-old Palestinian girl in the Gaza Strip, in what the Israeli army says was an accidental killing. Her death came just hours after Israeli forces deliberately targeted Hamas activists in Gaza, killing two of them.

The girl, identified as Aya Fayad, was shot in the chest by soldiers firing at the Khan Younis refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip.

Several other Palestinians were wounded.

Israel radio, quoting Israeli army officials, said that the girl had been mistakenly hit by tank fire meant to deter the launching of Palestinian mortars.

Earlier on Saturday, Israel killed two members of Hamas in a helicopter missile strike, the fifth such operation against the organization in the past 10 days.

The two were identified as Abdullah Akel, 37 and Farid Mayet, 40, both members of the military wing of Hamas, a group that has carried out numerous suicide bombings.

Mr. Akel, a leading field commander with Hamas in central Gaza, was the main target of the operation.

He is blamed for firing mortar shells and homemade Kassam rockets at Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip and towns inside Israel.

Hamas members fired a Kassam rocket at the Israeli coastal town of Ashkelon last week.

In response, Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, ordered the Israeli army to take all "necessary steps" to stop the attacks.

Israel is also stepping its military campaign against Hamas, in the wake of the August 19 bus bombing in Jerusalem that killed 20 Israelis.

Palestinian Information Minister, Nabil Amr, said Saturday the latest Israeli operation had undermined hopes for a resumption of peace talks and called on the United States to intervene and prevent what he called a further "deterioration of the situation".

Israeli Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman, Gideon Meir, says that Israel has no choice but to stop what he called Palestinian "terrorists" before they had a chance to strike first.