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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Israel Pursues Militants Into Gaza, Killing 10

NUSSEIRAT REFUGEE CAMP, Gaza Strip -- The flag-wrapped bodies of seven Palestinians killed in an Israeli missile strike were carried through this shantytown Tuesday, with tens of thousands of mourners clamoring for revenge.

The seven, ranging in age from 11 to 49, were bystanders crowding around a car after it was targeted by a missile, Palestinian security officials said. The Israeli military said it believed three of the dead were militants in the car. However, the vehicle did not take a direct hit and witnesses said the wanted men escaped.

The attack in Nusseirat was one of five airstrikes in the Gaza Strip on Monday, one of the most intense single-day assaults with helicopters and warplanes in three years of fighting. In addition to the seven killed in Nusseirat, three more Palestinians -- two Hamas militants and a bystander -- were killed in the other strikes. About 100 Palestinians were wounded, hospital officials said. More than a dozen of those hurt were in serious condition.

The missile hits revived debate in Israel over the policy of targeted killings in crowded areas. Israeli vice premier Ehud Olmert told Israel Army Radio he considered the large numbers of civilian casualties "distressing," but that military strikes would continue, "especially in light of the murderous acts of terror groups." Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat denounced the airstrikes as an "inhumane escalation against our people."

Of the five airstrikes, the one in Nusseirat was the deadliest. The Israeli military said the incident began when a group of militants tried to sneak across a border fence from Gaza into Israel to carry out an attack. Two of the militants were killed by Israeli soldiers at the border and the others, apparently three, fled in a car and drove to nearby Nusseirat, said Brigadier General Ruth Yaron, an Israeli army spokeswoman. The military kept track of the car as it sped away.

When the vehicle reached Nusseirat's main street, an Israeli helicopter fired at least two missiles toward it. The military said the missiles hit the vehicle 15 seconds apart. Palestinian security officials and witnesses said the first missile missed the car, allowing the fugitives to escape, and that second and third missiles were fired at least two minutes later, at a time when hundreds of bystanders were at the scene.

The dead and injured were taken to a small hospital in nearby Deir El Balah by ambulance, private cars and donkey carts. Some of the wounded were treated on the floor and in the yard for lack of space. Palestinian security officials said all seven killed were civilians and released a list of names. Among the dead were an 11-year-old boy, a 49-year-old cement factory owner and a doctor who had rushed to the scene from a nearby clinic.

Militants killed in Israeli strikes are usually claimed quickly by their groups, but no armed groups came forward after the Nusseirat attack. Tens of thousands joined Tuesday's funeral procession. "Sharon, wait, wait, you have opened Hell's gate," the crowd chanted in a threat of revenge, as the bodies were carried on stretchers through the camp.

Yaron said the incident was still under investigation and that she did not know how many civilians were killed. She held the militants ultimately responsible, saying they were using bystanders as human shields.

Monday's airstrikes came in response to the firing of homemade Qassam rockets on Israeli border towns. A Palestinian ambush that killed three soldiers in the West Bank over the weekend may also have played a role in ordering the attacks, Israeli military correspondents wrote.

"The conflict and violence appear to have become a goal unto itself," wrote Alex Fishman in the Yediot Ahronot daily. "Where are the red lines we impose on ourselves in this war? How long can we hurt innocent civilians?"

Hamas and Islamic Jihad pledged revenge. "The two movements agreed to confront the Zionist aggression on our people in Palestine and to urge all [Palestinian] factions and resistance forces to coordinate among each other to confront this aggression," a joint statement said.

The Israelis said there would be no letup. "The Israeli military will continue to act to foil terror attacks, capture murderers and liquidate terror organizations," Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told parliament Monday.

Negotiations over implementing the "road map" peace plan, formally presented in June, have sputtered amid violence and political turmoil. The plan calls for an end to the three-year conflict and a Palestinian state in 2005.

Israeli opposition leader Shimon Peres delivered a combative response to Sharon, accusing him of being insincere about making peace. "Prime minister, you have missed the opportunity," Peres said. "We are dealing with a nation that is fighting for its freedom, and don't take them lightly," said Peres of the Palestinians.