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Bomb kills 4-man Israeli tank crew

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 16, 2003


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.

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 last 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 that Palestinians were preparing major terror attacks.

The closure, banning Palestinians from entering Israel and maintaining tight travel restrictions in the West Bank, was imposed Tuesday and was to have lasted only for the duration of the Muslim Feast of the Sacrifice holiday, which ended Friday.

Despite the latest bloodshed, Palestinian officials said Saturday that Palestinian Interior Minister Hanni el Hassan and Finance Minister Salam Fayad were expected to meet soon with Dov Weisglass, the head of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's office, for renewed talks aimed at reaching a cease-fire between the two sides.

Israeli officials could not immediately be reached for comment, but Israeli radio said the meeting would take place during the coming week.

N.Korea lays groundwork for son to succeed Kim

TOKYO -- North Korea has launched a campaign to promote the 21-year-old son of leader Kim Jong Il as his successor, Kyodo News reported Saturday.

Kim Jong Il turns 61 today and there is no suggestion that he will step down soon or is in poor health.

The Japanese news agency said a classified North Korean military document reverentially referred to Kim's wife Ko Yong Hee as "mother" and "loyal subject." Little is known about Kim Jong Il and Ko Yong Hee's son, Kim Jong Chul. A South Korean newspaper reported he had studied in France.

Elsewhere . . .

BOLIVIA CALLS FOR SHOOTING PROBE: Bolivia called on international human rights groups Saturday to investigate the shooting deaths of 13 people in rioting that swept the capital last week.

Government officials said President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada would appeal to activists to probe the deaths of four soldiers and nine police officers killed during demonstrations in La Paz's central plaza Wednesday.

NIGERIAN OIL WORKERS STRIKE: Nigerian oil workers on Saturday launched a strike that could shut down crude exports in the world's sixth-largest oil exporter.

The strike over pay and working conditions comes as the threat of war in Iraq and a prolonged strike in Venezuela have pushed oil prices to two-year highs. Half of Nigerian exports go to the United States.

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