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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Gaza Car Blast Leaves 4 Palestinians Dead

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- Four Palestinians were killed Monday when a car exploded in the Gaza Strip, possibly when it was hit by a missile or tank shell, Palestinian security officials said.

They said they suspected the blast near the southern town of Rafah, about 400 meters from the border with Egypt, was caused by an Israeli missile or tank shell. They did not immediately identify the people who were killed.

Witnesses said the bodies were badly charred and the car was destroyed. The Israeli army had no immediate comment.

A fifth person, apparently a bystander, was reported wounded in the blast.

If it was an Israeli attack, the incident is likely to increase tension and deepen the cycle of tit-for-tat violence in which more than a thousand people have been killed in 16 months.

The Palestinians have been waging an uprising against Israeli occupation since September 2000, during which Israel has carried out a number of missile strikes to kill Palestinian militants it accuses of carrying out or planning attacks.

Palestinians call Israeli's policy state-sponsored assassination and it has drawn international condemnation, but Israeli officials say they are acting in self-defense.

There have also been several incidents where militants blew themselves up with their own bombs.

On Sunday, Palestinian militants wounded at least six Palestinian police and two civilians at Rafah refugee camp in a battle after police intercepted the militants in a car.

The car explosion also took place hours after an Israeli helicopter missile strike at what Israel said was a Palestinian mortar bomb factory in Jabalya refugee camp near Gaza City.

There were no reports of casualties in that strike, which followed a peace pledge by Palestinian Leader Yasser Arafat on Sunday that included a vow to crack down on what he called "terrorist groups" that attack Israeli civilians.

Israeli military sources said mortar bombs were made at the facility and that it was attacked by air. Earlier the army reported Palestinians had fired two mortar bombs Sunday at a Jewish settlement, causing no injuries or damage.

Palestinian security officials said two helicopters fired four to five missiles at the workshop, which went up in flames.

Arafat charted "The Palestinian Vision of Peace" in Sunday's New York Times, preceding talks Thursday between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and U.S. President George W. Bush.

Bush has publicly expressed disappointment with Arafat over his alleged involvement in an attempt to smuggle Iranian arms into Gaza in violation of interim Israeli-Palestinian peace deals. Arafat has denied any culpability.

Washington signaled Sunday it would not walk away from the Middle East crisis and would strive to put the Israelis and Palestinians on the path to peace.