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Israeli Tank Blown Up in Hamas Retaliatory Attack - 2003-02-15

Israel says four of its soldiers were killed Saturday when their tank was blown up as it drove near the Israeli settlement of Dugit in the Gaza Strip.

An Israeli military official said the tank was destroyed when it ran over a 100 kilogram explosive device.

Major General Doron Almog told journalists Saturday evening that the Palestinian militant group Hamas planted the bomb. Hamas had earlier said its Izzedine al-Qassam military wing planted the explosives that destroyed the tank.

A statement faxed to news agencies said the attack was carried out to avenge the death of two of Hamas' militants killed by Israeli forces in a clash near the Gaza town of Beit Lahia earlier this week.

Palestinian witnesses said Israeli helicopters hovered over the scene as rescuers tried to approach the tank which burned fiercely following the explosion. They said a number of bodies were retrieved from the tank and carried away on stretchers after the blaze was extinguished over an hour later.

The attack was the 4th fatal instance of a tank driving over an explosive device in the Gaza Strip in the past 18 months. Almost exactly one year ago, three soldiers were killed and two were wounded when their Merkava tank drove over an explosive device on the Karni-Netzarim road.

Three more were killed a month later in a similar incident in the same area. Then last September, a tank driver was killed and the other members of the crew were wounded by an explosive device in the Kissufim area.

In December, Israeli helicopter gunships fired missiles at a Palestinian Authority compound in Gaza, killing a man they said had made the bombs that blew up the three tanks.