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US Citizens Advised to Leave Gaza Following Attack on Diplomatic Convoy - 2003-10-16

U.S. citizens have been advised to leave the Gaza Strip. A Wednesday bomb attack against an American diplomatic convoy there killed three Americans and injured another. Palestinian leaders have denounced the attack and the main Palestinian militant organizations have denied any involvement.

The U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv says Americans in the Gaza Strip should leave the area as quickly as possible and it is advising U.S. citizens in the West Bank also to take precautions against possible attacks.

U.S. ambassador to Israel, Daniel Kurtzer spoke to reporters in Tel Aviv and described what happened.

"At 10:15 a.m., a U.S. embassy vehicle carrying four U.S. security personnel was attacked by an explosive charge in Gaza, a few miles from the Erez checkpoint. Two U.S. personnel were killed immediately," he announced.

The third died later and the fourth is in a hospital, listed in stable condition.

Ambassador Kurtzer said the FBI would send experts to assist in the investigation into the attack.

When initial American investigators arrived on the scene of the blast, they were pelted with stones thrown by some Palestinian youths. As an increasingly angry crowd formed around them, the Americans went back to their cars and sped away. Palestinian police beat some people as they held back the crowd.

Palestinian leaders have strongly condemned the attack. President Yasser Arafat called it a "crime" and said he had ordered an immediate investigation. Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia also denounced the attack.

"We condemn it strongly, we send all condolences to the families of those who have been killed there and we hope for those who are injured that they will recover very soon; and we will investigate from our side this," Mr. Qureia said.

No one has claimed responsibility for the bombing. The main Palestinian militant organizations, including Islamic Jihad, Hamas, and the al-Aqsa Brigades have denied involvement. The three groups, deemed terrorist organizations by Israel and the United States, have been behind most of the attacks against Israelis during the past three years.

The bomb appears to have specifically targeted the American convoy, making it the first attack against American officials since the intifada - the Palestinian uprising against Israel - began three years ago.

U.S. diplomats and CIA representatives routinely travel in Palestinian areas as part of a team to monitor and supervise the implementation of a U.S.-backed international peace plan.

Israeli officials say the attack shows the indiscriminate nature of what they term Palestinian terrorism. They say it also shows the Palestinian Authority is still not doing anything to stop such terrorism.