Bomb kills 4 Israeli soldiers in tank

Bomb kills 4 Israeli soldiers in tank

Steve Weizman

MIDEAST:

Hamas claims attack. Bulldozers demolish three Palestinian homes believed used as cover.

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

JERUSALEM _ A roadside bomb in the Gaza Strip turned a passing Israeli army tank into a fireball Saturday, wiping out its four-man crew in an attack claimed by the militant Palestinian Islamic group Hamas.

The blast from the 220 pound device detonated the U.S.-made Patton tank’s fuel and ammunition, setting the vehicle ablaze, the military said.

“The effect of the explosion was deadly,” regional army commander Major-Gen. Doron Almog told reporters. “Ammunition exploded, a huge fire broke out.”

In a statement faxed to news agencies Hamas said the bombing was revenge for the deaths of two of its activists who were killed in the same vicinity in a clash with Israeli troops earlier this week.

The attack, near the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Lahia, occurred Saturday morning but the Israeli military censor delayed publication for nearly 10 hours until relatives were informed.

Palestinians in the Gaza Strip said they saw black smoke rising from the tank. Soldiers with hoses tried to douse the flames, as Israeli helicopters hovered above, witnesses said.

Almog said rescue efforts were hampered by the fire that engulfed the tank and the muddy terrain.

It was the fourth fatal attack on an Israeli tank in the past year, and brought to 11 the number of soldiers killed in such incidents. Saturday’s blast was the first in which an entire crew was lost, Almog said.

Shortly after the incident, Israeli army bulldozers moved into the area and demolished three Palestinian homes after evicting their occupants, witnesses said. The army said the buildings were used by the attackers for cover while they planted and set off the bomb.

The military said it was extending a closure on the West Bank and Gaza Strip until further notice, citing intelligence warnings of terror attacks.

Copyright Copley Press Inc. 2003

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