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Israel Strikes Palestinian Convoy with Missiles
Reuters Aug. 04, 2001 15:03
RAMALLAH, West Bank - Israel launched its second missile attack in days on Palestinian activists on Saturday, hitting a convoy carrying a leader in Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction, Palestinian officials and witnesses said.
Senior West Bank Fatah leader Marwan Barghouthi said missiles were fired at two cars near his office in the town of Al-Bireh outside Ramallah but did not hit his vehicle.
``This is a failed assassination attempt and this is a cowardly act by (Israeli Prime Minister Ariel) Sharon, and a crime. The criminal occupiers will pay for this new crime,'' Barghouthi said.
Barghouthi, an influential figure in the 10-month-old Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation, said one of the missiles hit a car carrying a bodyguard and ``another man wanted by the (Israeli) occupation authorities.''
The Israeli army declined to comment officially but a military source denied Barghouthi was the intended target.
An Israeli security source said the target had been the car carrying Mohanad Abu Halaweh, a member of Arafat's Force-17 presidential guard, who the source said was behind a spate of shooting ambushes in which at least six Israelis were killed.
Halaweh jumped out of the car and ran for cover when a first missile overshot the vehicle. The second missile scored a direct hit, turning the car into a mound of charred and twisted metal. Halaweh suffered burns to the face and hands.
The missiles were fired at the convoy from a nearby Jewish settlement which overlooks Al-Bireh, the security source said.
On the outskirts of Jerusalem, Palestinian gunmen fired at Israeli apartment buildings in the Gilo Jewish settlement, an area Israel regards as a neighborhood of Jerusalem.
The exchange between the gunmen and Israeli soldiers who returned heavy fire lasted for several hours and echoed through the streets of Jerusalem.
ISRAELI TRACK AND KILL POLICY UNDER FIRE
On Tuesday, Israel killed eight people, including two senior figures in the militant Islamic group Hamas and two children, in a helicopter missile strike in the West Bank city of Nablus.
The Nablus attack raised tensions and prompted calls for revenge from Palestinians, who accuse Israel's military of assassinating more than 60 activists.
At least 510 Palestinians, 130 Israelis and 13 Israeli Arabs have been killed since the uprising erupted in September after peace talks deadlocked.
Israel describes its policy of tracking and killing Palestinian militants, which has drawn widespread international criticism, as ``active self-defense'' against those planning deadly attacks on the Jewish state.
Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo said the Al-Bireh attack was a continuation of Sharon's ``policy of assassinating Palestinian leaders.''
``This is a declaration of a comprehensive war by Sharon and we have received his message loud and clear,'' Abed Rabbo said.
Barghouthi told Reuters: ``There can be no dialogue with this government. This is a gang and not a government.''
The Palestinian Authority issued a statement condemning the missile attack and renewing its call for international observers to be deployed in the West Bank and Gaza.
In the Gaza Strip, Israeli tanks and bulldozers destroyed a Palestinian police building in a brief incursion into Palestinian-ruled territory near the Kfar Darom Jewish settlement in central Gaza early on Saturday.
The Israeli army said the pre-dawn raid was in response to mortar fire on Kfar Darom on Friday, which slightly wounded a father and his young son in the settlement.
In the divided West Bank town of Hebron, Israeli soldiers and Palestinian gunmen exchanged fire on Saturday afternoon after fighting a fierce gun battle earlier in the day.
A 25-year-old Palestinian Fatah member living in southern Gaza was killed in an incident his neighbors said occurred when a bomb he was preparing exploded prematurely.
Meanwhile, Israeli hospital officials said a five-year-old Palestinian boy, seriously wounded by Israeli gunfire on Friday, was in stable condition after surgery.
Soldiers guarding a checkpoint opened fire at a vehicle in which the boy and his grandfather were traveling. The army said the car was driving at full speed toward a group of soldiers who feared it was an attempt to run them down.
Israeli police, who for weeks have been on alert for a fresh round of bombings by Palestinian militants, foiled a bomb attack at Tel Aviv's main bus station on Friday.
Speaking on Israeli television, Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer cited the Tel Aviv bomb incident to explain why Israel would stick to the policy of killing Palestinian militants it believes are plotting attacks.
``What do you expect us to do?'' Ben-Eliezer asked. ``Only today (Friday), there was an attempted bombing at the Tel Aviv bus station. If we hadn't have foiled it, dozens would have been killed.''
-- Martin Thompson (firstname.lastname@example.org), August 04, 2001