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2 Dead in Israeli Strike on Gaza City - 2004-03-16

Israeli attack helicopters Tuesday fired missiles at targets in Gaza City, killing at least two people. The raids came just hours after Israel's security cabinet approved a military response to a double suicide bombing in the port of Ashdod on Sunday.

Palestinian witnesses say that the Israeli helicopters fired on an apartment building and at least two cars in the northern section of Gaza City.

Ambulances and Palestinian security forces have rushed to the area to give help to the wounded.

The raids came after Israel's security Cabinet gave the go-ahead for the Israeli army to launch strikes against Palestinian armed groups inside the territory.

In a brief statement issued by his office Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said several modes of action by the defense establishment were decided upon.

The Israeli Cabinet took the decision despite a last minute appeal by the Palestinian chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, who warned Israel against taking military actions inside Gaza.

"This will lead to a real human disaster. This will add to the complexities," he said. "The consequences of this will be disastrous not [only] in terms of the human casualties but also in the whole aspects of those efforts being made to revive the peace process."

Israeli officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the military actions are aimed at destroying the infrastructure of terrorist groups and killing the leaders of Hamas, and the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.

These groups, both listed by the U.S. State Department as terrorist organizations, claimed joint responsibility for the attack against Ashdod.

Hamas has carried out frequent suicide bombings that have killed hundreds of Israelis. The al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades is the armed wing of Palestinian President, Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction.

Some Palestinian ministers urged Mr. Arafat to take action against the group to avoid Israeli retaliation, but he refused.