Israel attacks four Palestinian sites

Associated Press

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – Israel attacked four targets associated with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement before dawn today, a day after a bloody Palestinian “independence day” took eight Palestinian lives.

The army said it hit Fatah headquarters in the West Bank towns of Salfit, Tulkarm and Hebron, as well as an armory in Jericho. Palestinian security officials confirmed the attack in Salfit, and said two men living in neighboring houses were injured – one seriously.

The helicopter attacks – described by the army as “pre-emptive” – were apparently Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s promised retaliation for drive-by shootings in the West Bank and Gaza on Monday that killed four Israelis, two civilians and two soldiers.

Wednesday was the 12th anniversary of a symbolic declaration of independence made by Arafat while he was in exile. All over the West Bank and Gaza, Palestinians marched to mark the day, and many of the processions turned into clashes with Israeli forces. As young Palestinians threw rocks and firebombs at Israeli forces, others aimed rifle fire at the Israelis.

Israeli soldiers killed eight Palestinians Wednesday, and another died of injuries received earlier. Since the fighting erupted Sept. 28, 219 people have been killed, the vast majority young Palestinians.

Despite the highest one-day toll since Oct. 20, Israeli and Palestinian leaders talked tentatively about peace, though the prospect seemed dim.

The intense fighting was a sad contrast to the funeral of Leah Rabin, widow of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. The Israeli leader was assassinated five years ago by a Jewish extremist who opposed his peace initiatives. Mrs. Rabin died Sunday of cancer.

First lady Hillary Clinton – the newly elected U.S. senator from New York – headed a list of dignitaries and ambassadors at the funeral, but no Arab leaders attended.

In what appeared to be a gesture to the Israeli people, Arafat gave a videotaped eulogy that was broadcast on Israeli television. He said, “I put with all the respects a flower from Palestine on your coffin, renewing my commitment for peace.” The eulogy was not broadcast on Palestinian television.

But exchanges of gunfire, not talk of peace, set the tone Wednesday.

“The political rhetoric has been replaced by field action,” Palestinian spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi said in apparent reference to recent Palestinian ambushes of Israeli soldiers and settlers on roads in the West Bank and Gaza Strip..”

Arafat has repeatedly pledged this year would bring Palestinian sovereignty, but the current hostility has eliminated any chance of a negotiated settlement for now. He has also backed away from unilaterally declaring an independent state.

Israel, which suspended peace talks amid the violence, said it would not resume negotiations until calm is restored.

“We are in the middle of a march of folly, and this tragic situation needs to be brought to an end,” said Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami.

Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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