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4 Palestinians Killed as Gaza Fighting Continues - 2004-05-12


Israeli helicopters have fired missiles into a neighborhood of Gaza City. Initial reports say at least three Palestinians were killed and more than a dozen others injured. There have been fierce clashes in the neighborhood as Israeli troops try to recover the remains of six soldiers killed Tuesday when their armored personnel carrier was blown up by a roadside bomb.

The latest missile struck near a mosque in the Zeitoun neighborhood of Gaza City. The Israeli military says it targeted a group of militants planting explosives, but Palestinian witnesses say the casualties include women and children. Just hours earlier a missile fired from a helicopter hit a building in the same neighborhood.

Fierce fighting erupted in Zeitoun for the second day in a row as Israeli forces conduct house-to-house searches hoping to recover the remains of six soldiers killed there Tuesday. Militants say they have taken the body parts, and Israel says its troops will stay in the area until the bodies are recovered. The initial operation began in the pre-dawn hours Tuesday when Israeli troops, backed by tanks and military helicopters moved into Zeitoun in search of weapons factories. As they began to pull out, hours later, one of their armored personnel carriers was hit by a roadside bomb and exploded. Palestinian militants were seen in video images, proudly displaying body parts of the dead soldiers after the attack.

The militant groups Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades all claimed responsibility for blowing up the soldiers' vehicle. Israeli soldiers clashed with Palestinian gunmen throughout much of the day Tuesday. At least eight Palestinians were reported killed and another 120 injured.

Later Tuesday, the Israeli government said it would not negotiate for the return of the soldiers' bodies, but vowed harsh reprisals.

The International Committee of the Red Cross has agreed to try to mediate, and Palestinian leaders have also called for the release of the soldiers' remains. Egyptian officials are also reported to be negotiating with militants for the return of the bodies.

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