GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – An Israeli missile strike killed a leader of Islamic Jihad and another member of the violent group Tuesday, a week into an Israeli military offensive aimed at ending Palestinian rocket fire on Israeli towns.
A second strike Friday night killed two militants in the Jebaliya refugee camp and wounded eight other people, including six civilians.
In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said he hoped the Israeli campaign in northern Gaza — the deadliest in the strip in four years of Israeli-Palestinian fighting — would end soon.
“The immediate problem right now is that Israeli built-up areas are being hit by rockets and (Israeli Prime Minister Ariel) Sharon finds a need to respond to that. I hope it does not expand,” Powell said. “And I hope that whatever he does is proportionate to the threat that Israel is facing and I hope that this operation can come to a conclusion quickly.”
Nearly half the 72 Palestinians killed and 60 percent of the more than 400 wounded in the campaign were civilians, Palestinian hospital officials said. Israeli troops have also demolished dozens of houses to carve out paths for tanks, mainly in Jebaliya, scene of the heaviest fighting.
An Israeli military official said Palestinian security officials have delivered messages through mediators, offering to try to prevent rocket fire on Israeli towns if Israel ends the operation. However, Israel appears to be in no rush to pull back.
A senior Palestinian official said he was unaware of contacts with Israel, which refuses to negotiate directly with the Palestinian Authority.
In Gaza City, an Israeli aircraft fired two missiles toward a car Tuesday, killing a top official of Islamic Jihad, Bashir Aldabash, 40, and another member of the group, Zarees Alareer. The first missile missed, but the second hit the vehicle, which burst into flames. The burning vehicle drove for about 100 meters (yards) before it came to a stop.
The army said Aldabash was “responsible for dozens of terrorist attacks.”
Later Friday, an Israeli aircraft attacked a group of militants from the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades in Jebaliya, according to witnesses and the militant group. The attack killed two militants and wounded two other militants and six civilians.
Israeli security officials have said targeted killings of Palestinian militants were also part of the offensive, “Days of Penitence,” which was launched last week, after two Israeli children, ages 2 and 4, were killed by Palestinian rocket fire on a border town.
In New York, Palestinians pushed for quick adoption of a U.N. Security Council resolution demanding an end to the Israeli offensive.
Arab nations that introduced the resolution said they want a vote Tuesday.
The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Danforth, said another resolution is not the answer, and that the council “acts as the adversary of the Israelis and cheerleader to the Palestinians.”
In a related development, the Israeli military said Tuesday it is re-evaluating its claim that Palestinian militants used a U.N. vehicle to transport a homemade rocket — an apparent retreat in a high-profile confrontation with the world body. The U.N. Relief and Works Agency said it has been informed that Israel will retract the accusation.
Last week, the military distributed a video, taken from an unmanned Israeli aircraft, that showed three Palestinians near a U.N. ambulance in Jebaliya, including one who carried an elongated object and at one point tossed it into the vehicle. UNRWA officials insisted the object was a stretcher, not a rocket.
On Tuesday, the military removed the video from its Web site.
“The Israeli Defense Forces are reviewing the original analysis of the footage, in which UNRWA vehicles are seen involved in suspicious activity in the combat zone in Gaza,” an army statement said.
An Israeli military official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a study of the video indicated the object may not have been a rocket and could have been a stretcher. The official said no definite conclusion has been reached.
In other developments Tuesday:
_ A Palestinian gunman was killed and three were wounded in an Israeli air force attack in Jebaliya. Israeli military sources confirmed that armed Palestinians were the target but would not discuss reports that a drone aircraft fired a missile.
_ A 16-year-old Palestinian girl was shot dead near the Rafah refugee camp in southern Gaza. The army said the girl placed an explosive charge near an Israeli military outpost, and that when she tried to run away, both Israeli soldiers and Palestinian militants opened fire in her direction. Residents said she was killed by army fire.
_ Near the West Bank city of Hebron, a wanted Hamas militant was killed by Israeli troops. The army said the man had opened fire on Israeli soldiers during an arrest operation and was killed by return fire.