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Israel cuts off contact with Arafat

bus
Body bags lie near the bus attacked by Palestinian gunmen in the West Bank.  


GAZA (CNN) -- The Israeli Cabinet cut off contact with Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat Thursday, saying it holds him directly responsible for an ambush of a bus in the West Bank Wednesday that killed 10 and injured 30 others.

"Chairman Arafat has made himself irrelevant as far as Israel is concerned, and therefore no contacts will be maintained with him," the Cabinet said in a statement early Thursday.

The Cabinet said Israel would send its own troops to the West Bank and Gaza to arrest suspected terrorists and confiscate weapons.

The statement followed Israeli airstrikes on Palestinian targets in Gaza and the West Bank late Wednesday in retaliation for the ambush of the bus by Palestinian gunmen.

Israeli authorities said the bus was traveling to the Immanuel settlement from Tel Aviv when an explosive was set off near it. At that point, police said, gunmen opened fire. Three cars following the bus were also fired on.

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Ambulance officials said when their workers arrived, they were fired on as well. In the ensuing gun battle one of the gunmen was killed, according to Palestinian security sources. He was identified as Assem Rihan, 21, a member of the militant group Hamas, the Palestinian sources said.

In a separate incident in Gaza, the Israel Defense Forces said two suicide bombers set off blasts near the Gush Katif settlement. The explosions killed the bombers and lightly wounded four Israelis. Mortar bombs also were fired at a car north of the settlement but no one was hurt, the IDF said.

In the airstrikes, Israeli jets dropped at least six bombs near Arafat's compound in Gaza City.

The IDF said the planes hit an airport radar station, a Force 17 compound in Ansar and the Palestinian naval police base, the latter two in northern Gaza. No casualties were reported. Force 17 is Arafat's personal guard.

In the West Bank, the IDF said F-16s bombed the Palestinian Authority Science Committee building in Nablus. In Ramallah, two missiles hit a radio tower at Palestinian Radio and one missile hit a house in al-Amari refugee camp.

In the wake of the bus ambush, Palestinian Authority spokesman Nabil abu Rudeineh told CNN Wednesday it will close all offices and institutions of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

But Israeli officials said the move was too little, too late, and said Israeli troops would move to arrest suspected terrorists in the Palestinian territories. Israeli sources said the Hamas gunmen who attacked the bus were among 33 terrorism suspects Israel had demanded that the Palestinian Authority arrest.

Hamas, an Islamic fundamentalist group, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a militant group dedicated to the creation of an Islamic Palestinian state and the destruction of Israel, both claimed responsibility for attacks during the wave of recent suicide bombings

The U.S. State Department encouraged the Palestinian Authority to move against the offices of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, but officials said Arafat had more work to do.

"It's absolutely imperative that Chairman Arafat and the Palestinian Authority act immediately, undertake all possible measures to pursue and apprehend those responsible for these horrific actions, and ensure that the organizations responsible are unable to commit further terror," said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher.

Wednesday's violence was the latest in a cycle of attack and retaliation that began when Palestinian suicide bombers killed 25 Israelis in Jerusalem and Haifa the weekend of December 1-2.

Israel has responded to a spate of mortar attacks and terrorist bombings with airstrikes against the Palestinian Authority and other targets in the West Bank and Gaza.

The Palestinian Authority issued a statement late Wednesday condemning what it called "military operations" on the bus and the two suicide bombings.

Ra'anan Gissin, an Israeli government spokesman, said the latest attacks "leave us no alternative but to take the necessary steps." He said there would be "quick reaction. No attack will go without a response."

Asked about reports that U.S. Middle East envoy Anthony Zinni had negotiated a 48-hour truce between Israelis and Palestinians, Gissin said Israel was not violating the agreement.

wounded
A wounded man is treated in Gaza City following Israeli airstrikes.  

In the West Bank, the governor's office in Jenin said that at around 3:20 p.m. local time Wednesday two Israeli tanks and jeeps went 1 kilometer into Jenin toward the governor's compound.

The governor's office said Israeli soldiers fired machine guns, wounding one Palestinian national security guard moderately. The soldiers retreated to the outskirts of the town after about 30 minutes, the governor's office said.

The IDF said Palestinians opened fire toward Israeli soldiers east of Jenin. They said the troops moved toward Jenin, returned fire and retreated.

Sharon's office said Wednesday it would continue the targeted killings of terrorists on their way to carry out attacks. It also said Israel would respond to every terror act.

Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi said such a decision was "certainly ominous" in light of intense efforts by the United States and the European Union to bring about a cease-fire in the region.

-- CNN Correspondent Matthew Chance contributed to this report.



 
 
 
 


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