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Israeli attack kills four Hamas members

Palestinian rescue workers unload an injured man from an ambulance after Sunday's rocket attack in Gaza.
Palestinian rescue workers unload an injured man from an ambulance after Sunday's rocket attack in Gaza.

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Aftermath of the Israeli helicopter strike in Gaza.
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Israel insists on a Palestinian crackdown.
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Excerpt from a 2002 CNN interview with Hamas founder Ismail Abu Shanab.
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GAZA CITY (CNN) -- An Israeli helicopter attack Sunday night in Gaza City killed four members of the Palestinian militant group Hamas, Palestinian sources said.

Witnesses said those killed were sitting in a vacant lot near a base housing members of Force 17, Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat's personal guard, when Israeli helicopter gunships fired at least two missiles at them about 9:55 p.m. (2:55 p.m. EDT).

Sources within Hamas identified the dead as Walid el Hams, Ahmed Eshtwi, Ahmed Abu Halala and Muhammad Abu Lubda. A fifth Hamas member was critically wounded, the sources said. Several bystanders received less serious injuries, hospital officials told CNN.

Following the attack, Palestinian militants fired at least four rockets at the Jewish settlement of Kfar Darom, about 12 miles (20 kilometers) south of Gaza City, officials said. Israeli troops returned fire. The rockets caused some damage in the settlement but no injuries.

Earlier Sunday, Maj. Gen. Abdel Razek al Majaydeh, Arafat's security chief in Gaza, ordered his forces to stop militant groups from launching rocket and mortar attacks at Israeli towns and settlements.

Palestinian security forces over the weekend closed four tunnels that been used to smuggle contraband from Egypt, Palestinian sources said. (Full story)

Israeli authorities said the contraband was being used by the military wings of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and vowed that if the Palestinians did not stop their access to supplies, the Israelis would.

The latest developments followed a meeting between John Wolf, U.S. envoy to the Middle East, and Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erakat in an attempt to salvage the U.S.-backed road map to peace.

The peace process was set back Tuesday by a terrorist attack that destroyed a Jerusalem bus, killing 20 people and wounding more than 130. Hamas and Islamic Jihad both claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing.

Five days before the bus bombing, Israel killed a leader of Islamic Jihad, prompting vows of revenge from the militants.

Two days after the suicide attack, Israel killed Hamas leader Ismail Abu Shanab and two of his bodyguards in a missile strike in Gaza, causing an outcry among Palestinians.

After the airstrike on Shanab, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades -- the militant offshoot of Arafat's Fatah movement -- said they would no longer abide by their self-declared cease-fire. All three groups are designated terrorist organizations by the U.S. State Department.

One Palestinian official said Israel should have allowed the Palestinian Authority to follow through on its plans to crack down on the groups before launching the missile strike against the Hamas leader.

But Israel says Tuesday's bombing shows that the Palestinians are not cracking down on militant groups.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said in a TV interview Saturday that he plans to visit a number of Arab countries next month. Armitage criticized Arafat and urged him to give full control over security forces to Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas.

Israeli media are reporting that Secretary of State Colin Powell and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice are planning to travel to the region.

CNN correspondent Michael Holmes and producer Talal Abu Rahma contributed to this report.

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