Israeli attacks kill 1 in Arafat's bodyguard unit
Targets selected in Ramallah and Gaza in retaliation for bombings
GAZA (CNN) -- The Israel Defense Forces sent helicopter gunships and tanks to hit targets associated with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat Wednesday, responding to a series of deadly attacks against Israelis.
One target in Ramallah, in the West Bank, and four in Gaza were hit, all belonging to Arafat's elite personal bodyguard unit, Force 17.
The Palestine Red Crescent Society said one Force 17 member was killed in Ramallah and at least six people were wounded -- two in Ramallah and four in Gaza City.
"The purpose was to hit the terrorists and those who sent them," said Raanan Gissin, a senior aide to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. "I think that mission was accomplished."
Gissin said the Israeli attacks focused on Force 17 headquarters in Ramallah, and other facilities of the unit in Gaza.
Gissin said Israeli intelligence had linked Force 17 with three bombings in the past two days in Israel, as well as the death of a 10-month-old girl hit by sniper fire in a Jewish enclave of the West Bank town of Hebron.
Palestinian Cabinet Minister Hanan Ashrawi, however, dismissed the Israeli charges as "preposterous."
"They are attempting to single out targets that are associated with the president instead of finding out who is guilty," she said. "As usual Israel is responding with massive military might."
Ashrawi said neither the Palestinian Authority nor the Palestinian Liberation Organization were responsible for the attacks, but Gissin insisted Israel had "ample evidence" to the contrary.
"We chose those targets which belonged to Force 17 in Gaza and in Ramallah, exercising our right to self defense," he said.
The attacks, launched from helicopter gunships and tanks, followed a suicide bomb that killed the bomber and two Israeli students earlier Wednesday, the third bomb attack on Israeli territory in two days.
Four other students were injured in the blast, which went off about 7:30 a.m. (0530 GMT) at a gas station known as the "Peace Rendezvous" near the village of Sdeh Hemet -- about a half-mile from the so-called "green line" border between Israel and the West Bank.
Several teen-age students were waiting at the station for an armored bus to carry them to their seminary inside the West Bank.
Hamas claims responsibility
In a telephone call to Reuter News Agency, the military wing of the militant Palestinian group Hamas claimed responsibility for the blast -- as well as the second of two blasts in Jerusalem on Tuesday -- and warned more were to come.
Five people were injured in the first blast on Tuesday, a car bomb set off near a busy shopping center as morning rush hour got under way. The second explosion killed one -- a suspected suicide bomber -- and injured at least 27 when it went off alongside a bus in the Jewish French Hill neighborhood.
A previously unknown group said it was responsible for Tuesday's initial blast, The Associated Press reported. The news agency said that it had received a leaflet claiming responsibility from a Palestinian group calling itself the "Popular Army Front."
Earlier Wednesday, Israeli authorities found a bomb in the coastal city of Netanya and carried out a controlled detonation. Later, security forces carried out a controlled explosion of a bomb in Petah Tikva, near Tel Aviv.
Sharon convened his Security Cabinet for a Wednesday afternoon meeting to discuss a response. Israel's new leader, who trounced incumbent Prime Minister Ehud Barak in elections in February, had appeared reluctant to respond to the violence while the Arab League summit was in session in Amman, Jordan -- but the summit ended not long after the Wednesday morning bombing.
The Israeli attacks began as Sharon's cabinet meeting ended.
Gissin, speaking before the attacks, reiterated Sharon's policy of no tolerance for attacks on Israelis, and said those responsible "will pay the full price."
Blast kills 9-year-old
While the Israelis and Palestinians have been at odds since Israel's birth more than 50 years ago, the last six months have seen a bitter escalation of violence in the wake of stumbling peace talks.
Not all of the violence has been the result of direct conflict. Hospital officials in Gaza said that a 9-year-old boy in Rafah was killed on Wednesday by an exploding tank shell. The boy and three friends, who were critically injured, had been playing with the shell when it went off.
Some Palestinian security officials, however, said the explosion had been the result of a booby trap.
The Israel Defense Forces said that no tank shells had been fired in the vicinity of Rafah, and that no booby traps were in place.
Since September 28, about 475 people have been killed in the violence, nearly 400 of them Palestinians.
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