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Israeli tanks demolish three Gaza structures

Israeli tanks moved into Gaza City early today and destroyed a police post and two other buildings, the first operation there since a bombing attack killed a Hamas leader and 14 other Palestinians in a mission that drew harsh world criticism.

Witnesses said seven tanks accompanied a bulldozer that flattened a small Palestinian military intelligence position and a metal workshop, and then soldiers blew up another workshop in a blast that could be heard all over the city.

Gunmen fired at the Israelis, and two Palestinians were wounded in the exchange, they said.

The Israeli military refused to comment.

Late Thursday, a rocket hit an Israeli village just outside Gaza, causing some damage but no casualties, the military said. In the past, the Israeli military has destroyed metal workshops in Gaza, explaining that Palestinians were making mortars, rockets and shells.

The move into Gaza City came hours after Palestinian gunmen killed a rabbi and wounded another Israeli in a roadside ambush near a Jewish settlement Thursday.

Despite the violence, tentative efforts were under way to restart talks among Palestinian factions toward stopping attacks against Israel. Palestinians said an Israeli airstrike Tuesday sabotaged plans for a unilateral truce declaration by one or more Palestinian groups.

Israeli officials continued to justify the bombing that killed Hamas commander Salah Shehada, while apologizing for the civilian casualties. But international denunciations continued.

Calling the Israeli attack "abominable," Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak charged in Paris that Israel's goal was to sabotage cease-fire efforts.

In Washington, Secretary of State Colin Powell said the Bush administration is reviewing Israel's use of U.S.-made weapons in the wake of the airstrike. Israel had no comment.

Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said Thursday that Israel called off strikes against Shehada several times after learning that civilians were with him.

Saturday night, "the plane was in the air" with the bomb when Israel discovered that one of Shehada's seven daughters was with him, and the strike was called off, Ben-Eliezer said.

However, Shehada's 14-year-old daughter Iman was killed in Tuesday's strike, along with Shehada, his wife, a bodyguard and 11 other people, most of them children in adjoining buildings.

Addressing the Labor Party that he leads, Ben-Eliezer defended the decision to kill Shehada, commander of the Hamas military wing known as Izzadine al-Qassam, which is responsible for hundreds of attacks against Israelis.

Ben-Eliezer claimed Shehada was planning a "megaterror" attack inside Israel, "perhaps the biggest Israel has ever seen, a truck with a ton of explosives that was intended to shock the people of Israel and cause hundreds, hundreds of dead."

In Lebanon, a TV station run by Hezbollah guerrillas said a faction affiliated with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement was threatening to kill Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and other top leaders. There was no confirmation from Palestinians in the West Bank.

In violence Thursday, Rabbi Elimelech Shapira, 43, was killed and another Israeli seriously wounded in a roadside ambush in the West Bank, the military said. Palestinians opened fire on their car near the Jewish settlement of Alei Zahav, south of the Palestinian town of Qalqiliya. Shapira was the director of a rabbinical seminary at the settlement of Paduel.

Also, another victim of last week's suicide bombing in Tel Aviv died of his wounds on Thursday, police said, identifying him as Dimitri Pundokov, 33.

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