JERUSALEM - Reviving a much-criticized tactic, Israel killed a Palestinian militant leader yesterday by incinerating his car with a helicopter-fired missile in the middle of a crowded Gaza City street.
A passing 12-year-old Palestinian schoolboy was killed and 10 other Palestinians wounded in the midday raid, according to Palestinian hospital authorities.
The Israeli army said the target of the attack - the first of its kind in six weeks - was Aziz Mahmoud Shami, a senior local field commander in the military wing of Islamic Jihad. The slain man was a bodyguard and relative of Abdullah Shami, a high-ranking Islamic Jihad leader.
An Israeli military source said Shami had been planning a "major attack" inside the Gaza Strip, and had been behind an infiltration that killed three Israeli soldiers guarding a Jewish settlement. Shami also helped mastermind a 1995 double suicide bombing in the coastal city of Netanya that killed 21 people, the military source said.
Also yesterday, four Palestinian suspects were charged in a Palestinian military court with killing three American security men in a roadside explosion Oct. 15 in the northern Gaza Strip. The United States has been applying heavy pressure on the Palestinians to charge and convict the people responsible for the bombing.
The U.S. State Department had offered a $5 million reward for information leading to the attackers' conviction, and American officials had told the Palestinian Authority that unless the responsible parties were found and punished, some aid programs could be jeopardized.
A Palestinian prosecutor told the military court that the roadside bomb might have been aimed at Israeli tanks rather than a U.S. diplomatic vehicle, but evidence gathered previously by U.S. and Palestinian investigators suggested that the device was detonated by remote control as the American convoy passed.
The court set a trial date of Feb. 29.
Like many "targeted killings" in the past, the Israeli missile strike that killed Shami came at a busy intersection in Gaza City. International human rights groups and Palestinian officials have pointed out that it is nearly impossible to carry out such an attack without also harming civilians in the area.
Witnesses said F-16 fighter jets roared overhead just before the missile strike on Shami's car - a tactic commonly used by Israeli forces to disguise the sound of the approaching helicopter.
The strike, which set the vehicle ablaze, sprayed shrapnel over a wide area at a time when many Palestinians, young and old, were passing by on their way from prayers or school, onlookers said.
Two other Palestinian militants riding in the car with Shami were badly injured, Palestinian officials said.
Abdullah Shami, the cousin of the slain man, vowed that Islamic Jihad would take revenge.
The strike drew condemnation from Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia, who called it an Israeli attempt to escalate tensions. Qureia, named to his post in September, has not met with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, in part because Israel does not think he has taken the necessary measures against Palestinian militant groups.
The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.