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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Israel Fired Rockets Into Gaza City Killing 2 Hamas Militants, 2 Others

Aired August 24, 2003 - 15:59   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

RENAY SAN MIGUEL, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and welcome. This is CNN LIVE SUNDAY. I'm Renay San Miguel. I also want to thank our international viewers for joining us today.
First up, though, this developing story out of the Middle East. At least four people are dead in Gaza City after Israeli helicopter gunships fired rockets into the city. Our Michael Holmes has the latest from Gaza -- Michael.

MICHAEL HOMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Renay, we can bring you some more details now. Four people were killed in this helicopter attack. Apache helicopters hovering off the beaches of Gaza City, putting at least two missiles into what was a vacant lot near some of Yasser Arafat's security buildings. Security forces based there.

We can tell you, we have confirmed that two of those killed are members of the Hamas military wing. We even have names, Ahmed Eshtwi and Walid el Hams. Now, Ahmed Eshtwi was on Israel's playing cards. Israel has put out playing cards much the same way as the U.S. has done in Iraq. Now he was on those playing cards as one of Israels most wanted.

The two other dead, according to our sources, are members of Force 17. Now, Force 17 is Yasser Arafat's personal bodyguard, if you like, the presidential protection force. They have also been killed.

We understand from hospital sources several people were injured. Whether they were with this group or bystanders, very difficult to tell at this stage. One of those people critically injured.

As I say, this is a vacant lot, right near security buildings. And it would appear that Israel's target was Ahmed Eshtwi, and he indeed has been killed. When we arrived, the bodies were just being removed. They were very badly mutilated. And one man was missing his head. And as we left, bystanders were involved in the bizarre and gruesome task of trying to find it so it could be buried with his body.

Certainly, Israel has never, Renay, said that it would not make targeted hits on people that it felt were, in Israel's words, ticking bombs, that is, people who were about to carry out actions against Israel. These people were in the middle of Gaza City, but it needs to be also mentioned that the Netzarim settlement is only a matter of a couple of kilometers away. So whether anything was in planning or not, we don't know. We do know that Israel struck at somebody that's on their wanted list, killed him, at least three others that we know of, and several people are injured, Renay.

SAN MIGUEL: The timing of this attack could be seen to be curious by some considering that the Palestinians have spent the weekend doing some things that the Israelis have wanted them to do.

HOLMES: Yes, it certainly wouldn't put the prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, in any better position, as if he was in a good one a few hours ago. After the targeted assassination, as Israel calls it, and - sorry -- targeted assassination, as Palestinians call, targeted killing as Israel calls it, of Ismail Abu Shanab, just a couple of days ago, an attack that we also witnessed.

There was great concern that it would derail Mahmoud Abbas in his efforts to take on Hamas and Islamic Jihad's military wings. Palestinian security forces -- sources told us just a few minutes before that attack on Shanab that they were ready to start moving almost immediately -- imminently was the word used to me. Now, that was delayed by the killing of Abu Shanab, who was a senior Hamas member.

And now we saw today, Palestinian police in the south of Gaza at the Rafah town, which is on the border between Gaza and Egypt, closing down tunnels that had been used for weapons smuggling and arresting eight people, and then just a few hours ago, security forces under the command of Yasser Arafat's side of things, if you like, started going up into northern Gaza around Beit Hanoun, which is near the area's crossing, to stop militants from firing rockets into Israel.

So you could say that steps have been taken. Israel has said for a long time that what steps have been taken have not been enough. And in fact, a government spokesman described the closure of those tunnels as all smoke and mirrors. Certainly, the tunnels were closed. They were filled with concrete. But clearly, Israel's not believing what they're seeing -- Renay.

SAN MIGUEL: All right. Michael Holmes reporting from Gaza. Thank you so much for the report. We will have more on this story and the status of the U.S.-backed road map for peace with guests from both sides of the Middle East conflict. That is coming up in just a few minutes.

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