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ISRAELI MISSILES KILL 8 AS VIOLENCE ESCALATES

Israel killed eight Hamas militants Tuesday, firing missiles into the sandy courtyard of a Hamas police station as the Islamic militant group claimed responsibility for a bold strike inside Israel, the first suicide mission in more than a year.

The latest round of violence followed two weeks of anarchy on the Gaza-Egypt border that has heightened Israeli concerns that Islamic militants could use the chaos to infiltrate into Israel to carry out attacks.

The last three weeks have seen a succession of violent events - starting with a Hamas rocket barrage on Israel, then a tightened Israeli economic blockade of the territory, and then a Hamas-engineered border breach with Egypt Jan. 23 that enabled hundreds of thousands of Gazans to break out.

Israeli security chiefs had warned that Palestinian militants used the breach to slip out of Gaza and make their way from Egypt through the porous 150-mile stretch of mostly unsecured Sinai desert that borders Israel.

Monday's suicide bombing in the Israeli town of Dimona, about 35 miles from the border, set off speculation the assailants used just that method to slip into Israel. The attackin a Dimona shopping center killed a 73-year-old Israeli woman.

Shortly after the bombing, two Gaza militant groups said they sent attackers from Gaza, via Egypt. The al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, an offshoot of moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah group, and a small PLO faction released the alleged bombers' farewell videos, and their two families set up mourning houses.

But Hamas claimed responsibility Tuesday and said the attackers came from the West Bank, not Gaza, an assertion backed by Israeli security officials and Housing Minister Zeev Boim, though Israel made no official announcement.

Israeli troops arrested male relatives of Shadi Zghayer and Mohammed Herbawi, the two men named by Hamas as the bombers.

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Militant sentenced

Palestinian militant Bassel Asmar was sentenced to life in prison Tuesday for his role in the assassination of Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi in October 2001, and for planting car bombs and explosive devices in a Jerusalem neighborhood. A Jerusalem court sentenced Asmar for murder, attempted murder and belonging to a terror organization.

Associated Press

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