JERUSALEM (AP) Israel struck a Palestinian government complex in the West Bank with missiles twice in retaliation for an Islamic militant”s assault on a Jewish settlement that killed three Israelis. Palestinian militiamen said they would increasingly target settlements.
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, meanwhile, addressed a prickly subject he has long evaded who will succeed him in the key posts of Palestinian Authority president and PLO chief. But Arafat, 72, who has no plans to step down, sowed rather than dispelled confusion, suggesting two different confidants to head the authority and the PLO.
The Islamic militant group Hamas claimed responsibility for Wednesday”s attack on Hamra, an isolated Jewish settlement of 40 families in the West Bank”s Jordan Valley. The assault marked the first time in 16 months of fighting that Israeli civilians were killed in their home, further raising the level of the nation”s anxiety.
In the 30-minute assault, Hamas gunman Mohammed Ziad Khalili, 26, from Nablus, cut through the settlement fence, killed an Israeli soldier, then entered a house and took Miri Ohana, 50, and her 11-year-old daughter hostage.
The gunman killed the girl and wounded Ohana before soldiers killed him with several shots to the head, said an army commander in the area, Brig. Gen. Udi Shani. Ohana died en route to a hospital.
In response, Israel launched two air strikes against the main government and prison complex in Nablus. Early yesterday, F-16 warplanes struck the site, injuring 11 Palestinians 20 hours later, helicopters fired two more missiles. Neither strike caused major damage.
After the first air strike, Palestinian wardens released 25 Hamas and Islamic Jihad prisoners to get them out of harm”s way, while 103 suspected informers for Israel remained in custody.
In Jenin, dozens of gunmen stormed a makeshift prison in an apartment building and freed seven detainees, meeting no resistance from police.
Among those freed in Nablus were Mahmoud Tawalbeh and Ali Safouri, two Islamic Jihad leaders appearing on a list of 33 top militants the United States wants to see behind bars. Tawalbeh is suspected of having sent more than a dozen assailants into Israel in recent months.
A leader of the Al Aqsa Brigades, a militia linked to Arafat”s Fatah movement, said yesterday that the group was escalating its attacks.