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Explosion Rocks Israeli Army Outpost in Gaza - 2004-06-27

Palestinian militants have set off a massive explosion underneath an Israeli army base in the Gaza Strip, wounding at least five soldiers. Heavy exchanges of gunfire have been reported as Palestinian gunmen opened fire on Israeli troops as they evacuated the injured to hospital.

Palestinian militants detonated a huge bomb inside a tunnel they had dug under an Israeli army outpost, severely damaging a concrete building. Wounded soldiers had to be lifted by troops from beneath the rubble at the army base, at the Kissufim junction in the Gaza Strip.

During the evacuation, Israeli ambulances came under constant attack from Palestinian gunmen and Israeli troops returned fire.

The militant Islamic group Hamas, and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an armed wing of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction, claimed joint responsibility for the attack.

The groups, both listed by the U.S. State Department as terrorist organizations, said the bombing was in retaliation for the killing of top leaders of their organizations by the Israeli Army.

In Gaza City, about 2,000 people, including about 100 armed men, went out into the streets to celebrate.

The explosion was the first successful Palestinian bombing against Israeli troops in Gaza in more than a month. On May 12, Palestinians blew up an armored personnel vehicle, killing five soldiers along the Philadelphia route which separates Egypt from the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli Cabinet has approved in principle a plan by the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, to withdraw troops and remove all Jewish settlements from the Gaza Strip by the end of next year.