Israeli troops unleash missiles

Associated Press

JERUSALEM — In one of the most intense Israeli assaults in a month of fighting, attack helicopters unleashed missile attacks Monday night on offices of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement, strikes meant to retaliate for the killings of two Israelis.

Israel fired warnings to clear the four offices in the West Bank and Gaza Strip before firing missiles, Israel television said. The missiles set off fires, but there were no immediate reports of injuries.

The two killings were the first Israeli deaths in and around Jerusalem since the violence began last month. At least 45 Palestinians were wounded Monday.

"I don’t know what the Israelis are trying to achieve through this language," Palestinian spokesman Saeb Erekat told army radio. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak "said that violence will not be rewarded or achieve anything. The prime minister needs to listen to himself."

About 100 Palestinians began rioting about midnight Monday, throwing stones and firebombs at Israeli troops near Khan Yunis in the Gaza Strip.

Earlier in the day, Barak opened the winter session of parliament and won a temporary reprieve for his unstable, minority government, warning Palestinians there would "be no reward for violence."

The Israeli military said it zeroed in on posts belonging to Arafat’s bodyguards, known as Force 17, and his paramilitary organization, called the Tanzim. "The army won’t let civilians, communities and soldiers be struck," the military said, apparently referring to the two Israelis killed.

Ephraim Sneh, Israel’s deputy defense minister, described the operation as a "measured response."

"There’s almost no limit to what we can do," he said in a television interview.

In parliament, Barak’s coalition appeared safe from collapse for at least the next few weeks. The ultra-Orthodox Shas party, Israel’s third-largest, said it would support him for the next month, and Ariel Sharon, the hawkish leader of the opposition Likud party, told parliament he still hadn’t given up on the idea of joining an emergency coalition with Barak’s government.

However, the conflict with the Palestinians remained on the boil, and Arafat gave no sign of ordering an end to the street confrontations.

In Gaza on Monday, he declared, "Until Jerusalem, until Jerusalem, until Jerusalem, the capital of our independent Palestinian state."

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 This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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