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Palestinian sources say 4 shot in Gaza

Israel continues offensive to stop rocket attacks


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JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Four Palestinians -- two of them children -- were fatally shot Thursday in continuing violence in Gaza, Palestinian sources said.

The shootings came as Israel pushed on with an offensive it launched nine days ago after a Palestinian Qassam rocket attack killed two Israeli children in the southern Israeli city of Sderot.

There were conflicting reports about Thursday's deaths of two people the Palestinians described as teenagers.

The Israeli military said it fired upon and hit two people in central Gaza, east of Khan Younis, who were seen launching a Qassam rocket. The two were fired upon from an aircraft, the Israelis said.

However, Palestinian sources said the two victims were a 12-year-old boy and his 14-year-old companion who were killed by tank fire as they walked to school. Other Palestinian sources said the two were killed by a rocket fired from a helicopter.

The Israeli military aims to create a 5.5-mile buffer zone outside northern Gaza to put Israeli cities outside the range of homemade Qassam rockets.

Israeli officials say Palestinian militants fired at least 30 Qassam rockets into Israel during September.

In another incident Thursday, Israeli military officials said troops opened fire at two militants who approached Gaza's border with Israel in southern Gaza, killing one. During searches, troops found two explosive devices alongside the body. The second militant escaped, the officials said.

Palestinian security officials said two militants from the Islamic Jihad group were killed in that incident. Islamic Jihad is dedicated to the creation of an Islamic Palestinian state and the destruction of Israel.

Israeli military sources also said that Palestinian militants launched two rockets from Beit Lahia across the Gaza-Sderot border, one landing in a field and the other in a house but causing no injuries.

Militants with the al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade -- labeled a terrorist organization by the United States, and associated with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement -- distributed leaflets claiming the rocket was a new kind of weapon called the Ababil.

No details were known about the weapon.

Officials from the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli military held informal meetings earlier this week.

The Israeli military said that officially no negotiations were under way, and the Palestinian sources described the meetings as preliminary.

Raanan Gissin, senior adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said once Israelis are assured no Qassam rockets will be fired at Israeli settlements in Gaza and towns beyond its border, Israeli will halt its attacks.

"The minute we get those assurances, either through action by the Palestinians, or through our own operations, then we will withdraw."

Gissin said the Israelis believe the offensive has been effective.

"There's no doubt that the capability to launch those Qassam missiles has been greatly reduced," he said.

Earlier this week, a U.N. Security Council draft resolution condemning Israel for the Gaza attacks failed after the United States vetoed it. The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Danforth, said the resolution was one-sided in that it condemned Israel but made no mention of the Palestinian rocket attacks.

A Hamas leader told CNN one week ago, as Israeli troops were moving into northern Gaza, that his group would end the rocket attacks if the Israelis left.

Hamas is a Palestinian Islamic fundamentalist organization. The group's military wing, Izzedine al Qassam, has admitted responsibility for attacks against Israeli civilians as well as attacks against the Israeli military. The United States labels Hamas a terrorist organization.

In a radio address Monday night, Arafat appeared to call for a stop to the rocket attacks, saying Palestinian militants in Gaza should not give Israel any reason to stage incursions into Palestinian territory.


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