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Israel hits Palestinian headquarters

By Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 31, 2000


JERUSALEM -- Israeli helicopters bombed Palestinian security offices Monday night in swift retaliation for the killings of two Israelis, a security guard who was shot in East Jerusalem and another man whose body was dumped in a dry riverbed.

Israeli missiles struck the offices of Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat's elite Force 17 guards and intelligence headquarters in Gaza, as well as the offices of his Fatah political party in the West Bank cities of Ramallah and Nablus.

There were no reports of Palestinian deaths Monday in the raid or in any of the battles that raged throughout the West Bank and Gaza, but an estimated 95 Palestinians were injured.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak had warned earlier Monday that the "window of opportunity is closing" for peace with the Palestinians.

"Most governments of the world recognize that a peace agreement was within our reach and that the Palestinians rejected the hand we held out to them," Barak said during his address to the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, which just returned from a three-month recess. "In the name of the majority of the Israeli people, I appeal today to Chairman Arafat: You must understand that by violence you will achieve nothing. In the face of violence you will find us united."

"I don't know what the Israelis are trying to achieve through this language," Palestinian Authority spokesman Saeb Erekat said after the raid. "Barak said that violence will not be rewarded or achieve anything. The prime minister should to listen to himself."

Earlier in the day, before his offices were bombed, Arafat defiantly proclaimed in Gaza: "Until Jerusalem, until Jerusalem, until Jerusalem, the capital of our independent Palestinian state."

Barak has been trying to strike a delicate balance between looking tough and keeping the door ajar for peace negotiations. Monday night's missile strikes, from Apache and Cobra attack helicopters, appeared to have been somewhat less punishing than those on Oct. 12, when Israel destroyed a police station in which two Israeli reserve officers had been lynched.

In 33 days of violence, 143 people, most of them Palestinians, have been killed, and thousands have been wounded. But Monday's Israeli deaths showed that the unrest has spread into Israel.

Shortly after noon, in a bustling shopping district, a gunman walked into the Israeli National Insurance office in East Jerusalem and shot two Israeli security guards. The office houses a government-funded social services agency that also serves the local Arab population.

The gunman fired six shots at the guards before vanishing into a warren of small shops. One guard died almost immediately and the other was in serious condition.

"We're glad," said Iyyad Abu Faruz, 35, who watched warily from a children's clothing store across the street. "Their blood is not more valuable than our blood. They have beaten us so hard, we are going to get even."

Two little-known groups -- Salahaddin Brigade and Martyrs of the al Aqsa Uprising -- claimed responsibility for the attack.

"This is the beginning of a guerrilla war," Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh said in an interview with Israeli radio. In other comments to the Israeli news media, he said the army would be deploying units trained in guerrilla warfare, such as those used previously in fighting the Hezbollah movement in Lebanon.

Not even during the intifada, the six-year anti-Israeli revolt that ended in 1993, was there such a serious attack in East Jerusalem.

Earlier Monday, the body of Jerusalem resident Amos Mahlouf, 30, was discovered by olive pickers in a dry riverbed between the Israeli neighborhood of Gilo and the Palestinian village of Beit Jala. His hands were tied and he had been stabbed repeatedly, according to Israeli police.

Mahlouf's family told police he went out Saturday for a walk and then was supposed to go to the synagogue, but never returned. Gilo, where Mahlouf lived, has been targeted by gunfire almost every night for the past two weeks.

The Israeli police also said Monday that a 25-year-old Jewish Russian immigrant whose burnt body was found Saturday in a car near Ramallah was probably the victim of Palestinian terrorists.

In the midst of the violence, Barak is facing a political storm of his own. In the Knesset he was almost shouted off the podium by Arab parliamentarians who brandished photographs of Arabs killed in the fighting. And Israel's hard-liners demanded a forceful response to the Palestinians.

Barak opened the Knesset at the helm of a weak minority government, seriously eroded by failed efforts at peacemaking. Talks with right-wing opposition leader Ariel Sharon on forming an emergency coalition remained deadlocked Monday. Early elections seem inevitable.

Barak has won a temporary reprieve, a "safety net" from the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party. Shas, with the second-largest opposition bloc of seats in the Knesset, has agreed not to vote to oust the government in the next month.

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