Days before Powell visit, Israel missile kills Hamas militant

Thursday, May 8th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

GAZA STRIP, Gaza City (AP) _ Israeli forces killed a senior Hamas militant in a missile strike in northern Gaza on Thursday, just two days before Secretary of State Colin Powell was to arrive in the region for talks on a new peace plan.

Israeli helicopters fired three missiles at a car driven by Iyad al-Beack, 30, killing him and slightly wounding three bystanders. Two missiles hit Al-Beack's car and the third landed in the street.

Hamas officials identified Al-Beack, 30, as a former assistant to the commander of the Hamas military wing, Salah Shehadeh. Al-Beack was responsible for hiding militants, Hamas officials said.

The Israeli army, which confirmed the strike, said al-Beack was responsible for 16 attacks in which 19 Israelis were killed. The army said al-Beack had links to al-Qaida and was planning more attacks against Israelis.

Hamas activists gathered around the mangled wreckage of al-Beack's Fiat as smoke billowed from the twisted metal. The strike happened in the afternoon when children and government workers were heading home from school and work.

``One missile hit the car from the front and the other from behind,'' said witness Imad Mouhmmed. ``There were pieces of human flesh flying into the air.''

Al-Beack was known for his secrecy and working alone. He had not been seen on the streets of Gaza since the funeral in July of Shehadeh, one of the most senior Hamas militants killed by Israel. Shehadeh was killed, with 14 others, when Israeli planes dropped a bomb on his home.

Israel has killed dozens of suspected Palestinian militants in targeted attacks in the past 31 months of fighting. Hamas is responsible for dozens of suicide bombings in which hundreds of Israelis have been killed or wounded.

Hamas spokesman Abdel Aziz Rantisi, promised ``severe reprisals'' for Thursday's missile strike and said it ``will only boost the Palestinian people's steadfastness and insistence on the intefadeh (Palestinian uprising).''

The missile strike came amid renewed international efforts to jump-start the long-stalled Mideast peace process.

Powell was to arrive in the region late Saturday and meet separately with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday. The talks are to be a first step toward implementing the so-called ``road map'' to peace, which envisions a Palestinian state within three years.

After Powell's talks, a U.S. State Department team was to remain in the region to oversee implementation of the road map, said Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath and a senior Israeli political official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Shaath said David Satterfield _ a senior U.S. State Department official who has mediated contacts between Israel and the Palestinians in the past _ would remain in the region for at least two weeks to aid the process followed later by U.S. Mideast envoy Richard W. Erdman.

Erdman, who has also been involved in past Mideast peace efforts, will monitor the progress of the road map for more than a month, Shaath said.

The blueprint for peace was drafted last year by the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia.

The three-phase road map calls for an end to violence and a freeze on Jewish settlement activities in the first stage, the formation of a Palestinian state with temporary borders in the second phase and a permanent state by 2005.

The senior Israeli political official said Israel had put together a package of moves it would be willing to make if it became clear the Palestinians had begun to combat the ``terrorist infrastructure.''

The actions include removing checkpoints and releasing Palestinian prisoners, and withdrawing from Palestinian areas reoccupied since violence erupted 31 months ago _ if Palestinian security forces take control of the territories, the official said.

In other developments Thursday, the Israeli Army said it shot a Palestinian near a Jewish settlement in the Gaza Strip before dawn. Palestinian hospital officials said they found the man's shrapnel-riddled body near the settlement. He was not immediately identified.

Meanwhile, an autopsy by Israel's national forensic institute revealed Thursday that a prize-winning British filmmaker shot and killed last Friday night in the Gaza Strip was hit from the front, an institute spokeswoman said.

The findings indicate that James Miller, 34, was likely killed by Israeli soldiers.