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Israel pounds Palestinian targets

Strikes are retaliation for terror attacks that killed 25

Black smoke rises from Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's landing pad near his headquarters in Gaza City.
Black smoke rises from Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's landing pad near his headquarters in Gaza City.  

RAMALLAH, West Bank (CNN) -- Retaliating for suicide bombings that killed dozens of civilians, Israel pounded Palestinian targets in Gaza and the West Bank and moved tanks to within striking distance of the office where Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was working, an aide said.

Early Tuesday, Israeli tanks entered Gaza City International Airport in Gaza, followed by bulldozers that began ripping up parts of the runway, said Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erakat.

Erakat said tanks have also entered the Palestinian town of Beit Lahiya in northern Gaza, the town of Al Bireh in Ramallah and the town of Nablus in the West Bank.

Ten Israeli tanks also were positioned near Arafat's Ramallah office while he was inside, Erakat said.

There was no immediate confirmation from the Israel Defense Forces.

Israeli air attacks at dusk Monday destroyed the residences of Arafat's guards in Gaza City as well as two of Arafat's helicopters and the landing pad, Palestinian Cabinet member Nabil Sha'ath told CNN.

U.S. president calls for action from Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat after terrorist suicide bombings kill 25 Israelis. CNN's John King reports (December 3)

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As Israel retaliates over weekend suicide bombings, talk of war takes center stage. CNN's Jerrold Kessel reports (December 3)

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Gaza hospitals said at least 15 people were treated for injuries -- none serious -- while Palestinian medical relief organizations reported dozens of injuries.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon blamed Arafat for the weekend bombings that killed 25 Israelis, all but one of them civilians and many of them young people, and wounded hundreds in Jerusalem and Haifa. Three Palestinians blew themselves up in a pedestrian mall and on a bus.

"Israel does not open wars," Sharon said at a news conference. "We know who has brought it on us -- Arafat is responsible for everything that is happening here."

Following the news conference, Israeli F-16s attacked the civil police headquarters and Palestinian Authority offices in the West Bank town of Jenin, the Israel Defense Forces said.

Palestinian security sources said the Palestinian police headquarters was destroyed but there were no injuries because the building had been evacuated before the attacks.

Palestinian security sources also said an intelligence officer was killed in an explosion in the West Bank town of Bethlehem. That explosion is still under investigation. The Israeli military denied it struck any targets in Bethlehem.

Also in the West Bank, a Palestinian man was killed by Israeli gunfire overnight, a Palestinian source told CNN Tuesday morning.

The Nablus governor's office identified the man as Amjad Toubasi.

Responding to Sharon's speech, Erakat said Sharon had issued a declaration of war.

"He is saying 'war, war, war now, peace later.' I think he is making the mistake of his life," said Erakat, who called on the United States and European leaders to "stop Sharon."

In Gaza, Arafat's nearby headquarters were not hit, Sha'ath said. The Palestinian leader was in the West Bank town of Ramallah at the time of the Gaza attacks.

Sharon would not say if Israel was planning to remove Arafat from his role as Palestinian Authority president, saying the government would "take the necessary steps to decide in due time."

In Gaza, Israeli helicopters fired as many as 10 missiles, according to witnesses, and video of the scene showed machine gun fire from the choppers.

Sharon's spokesman, Ra'anan Gissin, said Arafat's headquarters and residence in Gaza City were not the target.

"We had no intention of striking his home or his compound. ... These were not targeted, I want to make that very clear," Gissin told CNN. "We have destroyed his helicopter and we attacked the landing pad ... and the garage of the helicopter, just a very clear signal that he will have to pay a price if he doesn't comply and stand by the agreements he signed."

Palestinian security forces arrested two Hamas leaders Sunday, as well as dozens of other members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, after Arafat declared a state of emergency following the bombings.

Erakat denounced Monday's attacks, saying they would just breed more violence.

"Stop finger-pointing and accusing Arafat, " Erakat said. "There are more than 200 ... Palestinians who were arrested because we are following up and pursuing those who planned the attacks on Israel."

But Gideon Mayer of Israel's Foreign Ministry called the arrests "a fairy tale, Arafat-style."

"(Arafat) is not really arresting," Mayer said. "You don't do it in front of the cameras. This was a show to all of the world because he wanted a two-day quiet (period) after the massive terrorist attacks in Israel."

In Washington on Monday, a senior Bush administration official involved with the Middle East told CNN that Israeli attacks on Palestinian Authority facilities were a "clear message to Arafat that not only is Israel fed up, we are fed up as well."

The official said that the United States is "not urging restraint" in response to this weekend's four bombings against Israel but is merely cautioning the Israelis to "avoid civilian causalities and think of the day after."

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer refused to directly endorse Sharon's statement that Arafat is entirely to blame for the recent violence, but he said Arafat must show more of a commitment to peace.

"The president thinks this is the chance now for Yasser Arafat to demonstrate real leadership that is lasting, that is enduring, that puts people responsible for this away, and does so in such a way that they can't get out again and commit more terror," Fleischer said. "The president thinks it is very important that the Palestinian jails not only have bars on the front but no longer have revolving doors at the back."

Fleischer shied away from endorsing Sharon's direct comparison between Israel's retaliation and the United States' war on terrorism.

"The president has made clear all along that there can be no good terrorists and no bad terrorists, and I'll leave it at that," Fleischer said.

CNN Producer Larry Register contributed to this report.


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