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Gunman kills 6 Israelis; jets fire missiles in response

Ambulances on the scene of the attack in Hadera.  

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israeli F-16 fighter jets dropped eight missiles on the compound of the Palestinian governor of Tulkarem early Friday morning, according to a spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces, who said the strikes were in response to an attack by a Palestinian militant on a bat mitzvah in Hadera that left six Israelis dead Thursday.

Sources with the Palestinian Red Crescent said one person was killed and as many as 40 were wounded in the strikes, four of them critically. Tulkarem Gov. Izzeddin al-Sharif and Palestinian security sources said the planes were still in the area, preventing people from getting close to the site to find more casualties. The injured were hit on the periphery of the compound, which is now almost completely flattened.

Tulkarem is in the northern region of the West Bank.

The governor's compound included al-Sharif's office and other facilities, including a jail.

Thursday's attack on guests at a bat mitzvah in Hadera in northern Israel left six Israelis dead and more than 30 wounded, Israeli police said. The attacker was also killed. A Palestinian group claimed responsibility for the attack.

Israeli police said a man entered a banquet hall in the coastal city and began firing an automatic weapon and throwing grenades. At least three people were critically wounded.

The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades -- the military wing of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement -- claimed responsibility for the attack and said it was carried out in response to the assassination Monday of popular Fatah leader Raed al-Karmi.

The group identified the Hadera attacker as Abed Hassouneh of Nablus. He was killed by police as guests at the bat mitzvah pushed him out into the street, even as he fired his weapon.

In a statement, the Palestinian Authority condemned the attack but blamed Israel's assassination policy for provoking it.

"The assassination of Raed al-Karmi and other activists has created such a situation and led to this attack," the statement said. "Israel should stop its assassination policy in order not to provoke the Palestinians and allow the Palestinian Authority to control the streets and maintain a ceasefire."

The attack happened at 9:45 p.m. (3:45 p.m. EST) as guests at the bat mitzvah -- held for a 12-year-old girl -- were departing, said Gil Kleiman, a spokesman for the Israeli police. A bat mitzvah, for a girl, and bar mitzvah, for a boy, is a ceremony marking the transition from childhood to adulthood in the Jewish religion.

The Israeli government placed blame for the attack squarely on Arafat's shoulders. "This just corroborates what we have been saying all along: That Arafat does not take any measure whatsoever in order to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure," said Israeli government spokesman Ra'anan Gissin.

"Despite all the declarations and despite all the attempts to convince the world that he's fighting terror, Arafat has done nothing."

Government spokesman Avi Pazner promised swift action. "Certainly we are going to take strong action," he told CNN Correspondent Jerrold Kessel in an interview before the Israeli jets hit the Tulkarem compound. "We will do the job the Palestinian Authority will not do."

That job, he said, involves arresting terrorists, not just appealing to them to stop their attacks.

U.S. condemns 'horrific act of terrorism'

In Washington, the Bush administration condemned the Hadera attack "in the strongest possible terms," calling it a "horrific act of terrorism."

Greg Sullivan, a spokesman for the State Department's Near East Asian Affairs Bureau, reiterated the United States' support for Israel in its fight against terrorism and called on Arafat to act against terror.

"As leader of the Palestinian Authority, the PLO and Fatah, Chairman Arafat must take immediate action against those responsible for these acts and confront the infrastructure that perpetuates terror and violence," he said.

The scene of the banquet hall following the attack Thursday night (January 17)

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In-Depth: Mideast struggle for peace 

Hadera has been the site of several attacks by Palestinian militants in recent months.

In addition to the death of al-Karmi, the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades has called for renewed attacks on Israel because of the arrest of Ahmad Sa'adat, secretary-general of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

Overnight, a top member of Al Aqsa died in a shootout with Israeli troops near the West Bank town of Nablus, Israel and Palestinian sources said Thursday.

Palestinian medical sources identified the dead man as Khamis Ahmed Ali Abdullah, 42, and said he was killed by a bullet to the chest.

The Israel Defense Forces said a Palestinian was killed in the incident but did not identify him.

"An IDF force on operational activity last night, west of the village of Ascar, near Nablus, encountered an armed Palestinian in an area under Israeli security control. In the exchange of fire which ensued, the Palestinian was killed," the IDF statement said.

The body was given to the Palestinians, according to the Israeli military.

Four Israelis have been killed since al-Karma was killed Monday. The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades claimed responsibility for killing an Israeli soldier Monday afternoon.

Israeli authorities said the group is suspected in the deaths of two Israelis Tuesday and an Israeli Arab resident of Jerusalem Wednesday.

Cities blockaded

Ninia Kardashov, 12, center, was celebrating her bat mitzvah when the gunman burst in.  

The Israeli Security Cabinet met at midnight Wednesday and approved a series of measures intended to prevent terror attacks emanating from Palestinian territories, according to Gissin. He said steps that are being taken come as a result of the failure of the Palestinian Authority to abide by its commitment.

Israeli troops blockaded the Palestinian cities of Qalqilyah and Jenin in an apparent attempt to stop attacks, Israeli and Palestinian sources said.

The West Bank towns of Nablus and Tulkarem were closed off Tuesday. Parts of Ramallah also remain blockaded by Israeli troops.

In an interview broadcast on Israeli television prior to the bat mitzvah attack, Arafat said that despite the upsurge in violence, peace is still possible. "Where there is a will, there is a way," he said.

He said the Palestinian Authority had arrested Ahmad Sa'adat because the authority wants the PFLP leader to turn over two men suspected of killing Israeli Cabinet member Rechavam Ze'evi.

Israel has refused to allow Arafat to travel from his headquarters in Ramallah until the men it says are Ze'evi's killers are arrested.

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said Wednesday night the travel restrictions on Arafat will continue until the arrests are made, Israel Radio reported.

Ze'evi, a former general, was gunned down at an East Jerusalem hotel in October. The PFLP claimed responsibility for the assassination.


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