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Senior Hamas Militant Narrowly Escapes Assassination - 2002-09-27

A top Islamic militant narrowly escaped assassination in an Israeli air strike in Gaza City Thursday. The attack killed two other Islamic militants and injured dozens of bystanders, including 15 children.

An Israeli cabinet minister has confirmed that senior Hamas militant Mohammed Deif is alive. Science Minister Matan Vilnai told Israel's Army Radio it appears that the Hamas commander was only moderately wounded in Thursday's missile strike.

Mohammed Deif has long topped Israel's most wanted list. He is the commander of the armed wing of the militant organization and is its main bomb-maker.

Israeli officials confirmed that he was the target of the attack in Gaza City's crowded Sheik Radwan neighborhood. The Israeli missiles killed two other Hamas militants instead and injured dozens of bystanders.

Hamas, which has been at the forefront of recent suicide attacks against Israel, has vowed to avenge Thursday's airstrike.

Israel has tracked down and targeted dozens of Palestinian and Islamic militants in such strikes part of a policy the military describes as "targeted killings." Such attacks are often carried out from the air and often in crowded areas. Israel says the attacks are justified as self defense and are necessary as a deterrent. Critics and human rights groups say they amount to state-sponsored assassinations.

Following Thursday's strike, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, called on Israel to halt such actions and conduct itself in a manner fully consistent with international humanitarian law.

In military action Friday, Israeli soldiers shot and killed a Hamas militant in the West Bank City of Hebron.

And, Israeli soldiers continue to surround the mostly demolished headquarters of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in Ramallah. Mr. Arafat and about 200 of his men remain trapped inside one small building. The Palestinian leader has so far defied Israeli demands that he surrender some of his men, who Israel says are wanted for involvement in terror attacks.

Israel has increased security around Jerusalem and in particular around the walled Old City. Only residents are allowed into the Old City, and only men over 40 were allowed to attend Muslim Friday prayers at the Al-Aqsa mosque. The heightened security measures come as Palestinians prepare to mark the second anniversary of the current intifada, or uprising, against Israel.