Two Palestinians killed in attack on army patrol; missiles fire

JERUSALEM -- Israeli soldiers killed two Palestinians in the West Bank on Friday, and helicopter gunships pounded Gaza City with 11 missiles, destroying a metal workshop and damaging a hospital chapel.

The army also raided Beit Hanoun in Gaza, calling on residents in a northern neighborhood that borders Israel to evacuate their homes.

Helicopter gunships periodically fired into the area, used by militants to fire rockets at Israeli towns. Explosions were heard throughout Gaza as hundreds of young Palestinians threw stones at the Israeli forces.

The violence came four days ahead of the Israeli general election that was expected to return Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to power.

In the West Bank clash, Soad Jawadallah, a 45-year-old woman, was killed and hand grenades were found on her body, the army said.

Neighbors said she had been distraught over the killing of her son Ahmed, an activist in the militant Islamic Jihad group, in a targeted Israeli attack three months ago.

The second person killed Friday was an activist in the militant group Hamas.

"After Ahmed was assassinated, she said many times she can't endure life without him and she hoped she would be a martyr as soon as possible to join him in the other life," said a neighbor, Sameh Shweiki.

Jawadallah's husband insisted his wife was an innocent bystander.

The clash took place Friday morning near the near the Jewish settlement of Shavei Shomron, close to the West Bank city of Nablus. The military said four Palestinians attacked an army patrol.

An unidentified man was shot and captured. The military said he carried a belt with 11 pounds of explosives. A fourth attacker escaped, the army said.

In Beit Hanoun, witnesses said they saw Palestinian militants detonate a bomb alongside an Israeli tank and set it on fire. Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the attack. The army said militants had detonated three bombs, but no one was injured.

Military officials said forces blew up a bridge in Beit Hanoun used by militants to fire rockets at Israeli towns. Earlier Friday, three rockets landed in an Israeli town not far from Gaza.

Also Friday, Israeli helicopter gunships fired 11 missiles at Gaza City, wrecking a metal workshop the army said turned out crude rockets and mortars. One missile also damaged the 19th-century Anglican chapel of Ahli Arab Hospital, punching holes in the roof and the floor near the altar and dusting a painting of the Virgin Mary with debris.

"This is an act of terrorism against our church," said Anglican Bishop Riah Abu Assal. "Its location next to the hospital is well known. There is no room for mistakes, and they (Israeli military officials) didn't even bother to issue a statement to express their regret."

The military said it was checking whether pieces of a misfired missile hit the chapel.

Palestinians said six people were wounded in the missile strikes, though none of the 40 patients at Ahli hospital were harmed.

Hamas militants responded by firing three short-range Qassam rockets at the Israeli desert town of Sderot, about 3 miles from the Gaza fence. The town of 25,000 people, the largest population center within striking distance of the short-range projectiles, has been hit in other attacks during more than two years of fighting.

One of the rockets left a hole the size of a truck tire in the yard of a home and lightly injured a woman hanging laundry, police said. Two other rockets landed in a field near a swimming pool.

Visiting the scene, Sharon said: "The people here are confident and have strong endurance to bear difficult situations. We haven't lost hope and even in this situation, we will prevail."

Sharon is running on a platform of military reprisals for Palestinian attacks. He is favored over his dovish opponent, Amram Mitzna, who calls for a resumption of negotiations with the Palestinians and withdrawal from most of the West Bank and all of the Gaza Strip.

In Rafah in the Gaza Strip, Palestinians said the army demolished 13 homes along the Egyptian border, including five that were inhabited.