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Israel Denies Involvement in Gaza Strip Explosion - 2003-06-23

Israel denies it had anything to do with an explosion in the Gaza Strip, late Sunday, that killed four Palestinian militants.

Palestinian security officials say Israeli tank fire killed four members of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. However, Israel says none of its military forces were in the area at the time of the blast. They say the Palestinian militants were likely killed when explosives they were preparing went off, prematurely.

The latest violence comes one day after Israeli forces killed a top official from the Palestinian militant group Hamas, in a raid hailed as a successful operation by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell deemed the killing 'regrettable' and said the incident could set back the peace process.

Hamas has vowed revenge for the killing of the official, Abdullah Qawasemeh.

In other action overnight, Israeli forces entered the southern Gaza Strip town, Khan Younis, demolishing two homes they said were empty buildings militants were using to launch attacks on Israeli soldiers.

Earlier Sunday, Israeli troops shot and killed a Palestinian man they said was acting suspiciously, near a Jewish settlement in southern Gaza. Palestinian militants also fired three rockets into the Israeli town, Sderot, which is near the Gaza Strip.

Israel Radio reported Monday that Israeli security forces had intelligence that 60 attacks are being planned by Palestinian militants, half of them by Hamas. Israeli media are also reporting Hamas may agree to a temporary ceasefire, in the coming days.

Secretary Powell was in Jordan, Sunday, where he met with representatives of the European Union, Russia and the United Nations to discuss the peace process. After talks with the so-called "quartet," which authored the latest international peace plan, known as the "road map," U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan read a statement, on behalf of the group, calling for Israel and the Palestinians to break their cycle of violence.

Mr. Annan also condemned Palestinian terror attacks and expressed concern over Israeli strikes that result in the killing of Palestinian civilians.