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Eyewitnesses Say Israeli Tank Shot into Crowd, Killed Eight

By Laura King

According to dozens of Palestinian eyewitnesses, an Israel tank fired a shell directly into the crowd early Thursday as Israeli troops were withdrawing from a strike on the Jabaliya refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip.

Eight people died in the sand-strewn street in front of the furniture store, in addition to three killed in the camp raid, and 140 others were hurt, according to hospital officials.

The Israeli army sharply disputed the Palestinian accounts of Thursday’s raid. It said that an Israeli tank had returned fire after a Palestinian militant shot a rocket-propelled grenade at it, but that this had occurred on a street parallel to where the furniture store was located, and the crowd was not in the tank’s line of fire.

“Every care was taken not to have people injured, certainly not bystanders,” said Capt. Jacob Dallal, an army spokesman. “However, there was heavy, heavy fighting going on in the area.”

Israel officials also denied that Thursday’s raid was in retaliation for a bus bombing in the northern Israeli port city of Haifa a day earlier that killed 15 people and injured scores of others, describing it instead as part of an ongoing campaign against “terrorist infrastructure” in the Gaza Strip.

Early Friday, Israeli tanks again massed outside Jabaliya, after Palestinian militants fired off a volley of homemade rockets at Jewish settlements in Gaza and Israeli towns bordering the strip. The rockets caused no injuries or damage.

In recent weeks, Gaza has been the scene of increasingly chaotic fighting between Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen. Much of it has taken place in densely populated urban areas, pushing the civilian casualty count into the dozens and twice this week drawing unusual rebukes from the White House.

“The president is very concerned about action that would affect or harm innocent Palestinians,” White House press secretary Ari Fleisher said Thursday.