RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) Israel used bombs and missiles yesterday to pressure Yasser Arafat to move against Palestinian militants, striking just yards from the Palestinian leader”s West Bank offices and in the Gaza Strip. Two Palestinians were killed and about 150 were injured in the attacks.
The campaign stirred opposition from moderate Labor Party members of Israel”s ruling coalition, who boycotted a Cabinet vote on tougher action against the Palestinians.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon”s government said it was sending a stern warning to the Palestinian leader that there would be even harsher reprisals if he did not crack down on militants who have been attacking Israelis.
“The purpose was to send a clear military message Friends, we”ve had enough, take the responsibility that you have and stop the terrorism,” said the Israeli army spokesman, Brig. Gen. Ron Kitrey.
The air attacks came in response to weekend bombings and shooting attacks on Israelis by Islamic militants that killed 26 people and wounded nearly 200. Kitrey said yesterday”s raids targeted Palestinian Authority installations because the Islamic militants” headquarters “are secret and cannot be hit in this type of attack.”
Arafat, speaking to CNN after the airstrike on his Ramallah compound, accused Sharon of trying to undermine his efforts to combat terrorism. The Palestinian Authority has rounded up some 130 members of the militant Islamic Jihad and Hamas groups since the weekend, and Palestinian officials said the sweep would continue despite the Israeli raids.
“They (the Israelis) don”t want me to succeed and for this he (Sharon) is escalating his military activities against our people, against our towns, against our cities, against our establishments,” Arafat said. “He doesn”t want a peace process to start.”
Israel has dismissed the arrest sweeps as window dressing, saying Arafat was only targeting secondary activists, not the real planners of terror attacks.
The deadliest Israeli strike came in Gaza City, where F-16 warplanes dropped three bombs that flattened a building of the Preventive Security Service in a residential neighborhood. The blasts sent debris and shrapnel flying in a wide radius, and hundreds of panicked school children ran for cover, engulfed by a cloud of smoke.
Doctors said a 15-year-old boy and a member of the Preventive Security Service were killed in the attack, and 150 bystanders were injured, including dozens of youngsters.
“Sharon has declared war on us. God help us,” screamed 13-year-old Ayman Abdul Jawad as he ran in the street with friends, blood on his head.
The Palestinian Health Ministry said 38 people were still hospitalized several hours after the attacks, and five were in serious condition.