JERUSALEM (AP) Tossing grenades and firing rifles, two men in Palestinian police uniforms burst onto an Israeli army post near the Gaza Strip early yesterday, killing four soldiers before being shot dead.

Paul Wong
A wounded Israeli soldier is brought into Soroka hospital in the southern Israeli town of Beersheva yesterday after two Palestinians armed with grenades and assault rifles stormed an Israeli army post.<br><br>AP PHOTO

It was the first deadly Palestinian assault on Israelis in nearly a month and threatened to subvert efforts for a formal Mideast truce.

Struggling to keep the peace hopes on track, the Bush administration decried the attack and demanded that Yasser Arafat make arrests and dismantle the Hamas terrorism group. The attack was “particularly disturbing because it came at a time when the situation on the ground had been relatively quiet,” White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.

Israel said it held Palestinian leader Arafat”s government responsible for the assault, though the Islamic militant Hamas group claimed responsibility and declared it had abandoned a cease-fire.

The Palestinian Authority issued a statement condemning the attack and said the two gunmen were not members of its security forces.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon blamed Arafat for the attack, calling it “a result of the strategy of terror initiated by Yasser Arafat.”

Israel responded by destroying two Palestinian security posts and closing down three Palestinian naval police stations in the southern Gaza Strip, not far from the scene of the attack, the army said. Palestinian police had abandoned the posts earlier, fearing Israeli action.

Israeli army chief Lt. Gen. Shaul Mofaz said the attack proved “beyond any doubt the Palestinian Authority is not fighting the infrastructure of terrorism.” Israel also says Arafat was behind the 50-ton arms shipment Israel seized in the Red Sea on a cargo ship last week and the two events have dealt a severe blow to U.S. truce efforts.

“They are inventing a new issue every time. The last was the ship,” said Arafat, dismissing the Israeli charge.

Secretary of State Colin Powell refused to accept Arafat”s disavowal of any knowledge of a shipment of rockets and other weapons. Powell told Arafat in a telephone call “that the indications of Palestinian involvement were deeply troubling to us and that that”s what we felt required a full explanation,” Boucher said.

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