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Israeli Ministers Call for War

March 10, 2002

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JERUSALEM (AP) _ A Palestinian suicide bomber transformed a crowded cafe into a mass of maimed bodies and upturned, blood-covered furniture Saturday night, killing at least 12 people in an attack across the street from Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s walled compound. By Sunday morning, Israel had destroyed Yasser Arafat’s seaside office in Gaza and some ministers were calling for all-out war.

The compound, where Arafat received world leaders and held many news conferences, was empty at the time of the attack. Arafat himself has been trapped in the West Bank city of Ramallah by Israeli forces for more than three months.

Witnesses in Gaza City described a massive explosion that shook walls and broke windows around the neighborhood, as the building itself collapsed.

The retaliatory attack came at the end of a day of carnage on both sides; 14 Israelis and six Palestinians died by nightfall.

The bloodshed ranged from a Palestinian gun-and-grenade rampage on the Mediterranean seafront that killed a 9-month-old Israeli girl to the shooting deaths of two Palestinians, a 15-year-old girl and a policeman, in the densely packed refugee camps near Bethlehem.

There was a flurry of peace moves in Western and Arab capitals during the day Saturday, but after the two Palestinian attacks some Israeli Cabinet ministers began calling for all-out war.

``We must keep up the attacks by land, sea and air until they ask for a cease-fire,″ Interior Minister Eli Yishai told Israel TV as he inspected the remains of the Moment cafe in Jerusalem. ``We must not stop the attacks of the closures until they reach the situation that the civilians there ask their leaders to draw the right conclusions.″

Sharon called his senior ministers together for consultations before the regular weekly Cabinet session Sunday morning, Israel TV reported. Several ministers called for stiff action.

In the Jerusalem bombing, the assailant walked into the cafe, which is frequented by young Israelis, and detonated explosives, said Jerusalem Police Chief Mickey Levy. Sharon was not at the residence in the central Jerusalem neighborhood of Rehavia.

``There was a huge explosion, simply atomic,″ said one of the cafe’s patrons, who only gave his first name, Eran. ``There was smoke everywhere and an acrid smell of gunpowder. People were screaming.″

In competing claims, the militant Islamic group Hamas and the Al Aqsa Brigrides, a militia linked to Arafat’s Fatah movement, both said they were responsible for the bombing. Both groups have carried out suicide bombings previously, and Hamas called it ``the beginning of retaliatory activities for Sharon’s war on the (Palestinian) refugee camps.″

Twelve people including the bomber were killed, and about 50 were injured, Jerusalem police said.

Amid the spiraling violence, the United States, the Europeans and Arab leaders are all working on plans to calm the region. While Israeli and Palestinian leaders say they welcome the international efforts to arrange a truce, repeated attempts have failed in the past and the violence has developed a fearsome momentum in recent days.

The Jerusalem cafe blast came just two hours after two Palestinian gunmen tossed grenades and opened fire at a seafront hotel in the Israeli coastal town of Netanya. A 9-month-old Israeli girl died and more than 30 people were wounded, covering the hotel lobby and the sidewalk outside with blood, police and hospital officials said.

Police chased the two Palestinians and shot them dead in front of a second hotel nearby, Israeli authorities said. A third man was also shot dead, and police initially thought he was a Palestinian gunman, but later confirmed he was an Israeli citizen. It was not clear who shot the Israeli, police said.

The Al Aqsa Brigades militia claimed responsibility for the hotel attack.

In a daylong series of military actions, Israel staged four air strikes in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, bulldozed homes and shot dead three Palestinians in and around refugee camps , Palestinians said.

The army also detained an estimated 250 Palestinian men for interrogation in the Tulkarem refugee camp in West Bank. It was the second straight day of mass detentions in Tulkarem, a town just inside the West Bank and only nine miles from the scene of the hotel shooting in Netanya.

On both days, Israeli troops on loudspeakers ordered all men, ages 16 to 40, to report to a girls school in the refugee camp for questioning.

The men held their hands over their heads as they walked through the dusty streets, while Israeli soldiers pointed rifles at them. About 250 Palestinian men were detained Saturday, Palestinians said.

The army said it found about 50 wanted men during interrogations at the school on Friday, and that a search of the camp uncovered 10 Qassam rockets that are capable of hitting nearby Israeli towns.

In refugee camps in Bethlehem, just south of Jerusalem, the 15-year-old Palestinian girl and the policeman both died of gunshot wounds blamed on the Israeli forces in the area, according to Palestinian officials and hospital doctors.

Israeli tanks and armored personnel carriers took up positions outside the Dheisheh refugee camp, and an earthmover dug a trench in the road to cut off the camp from roads leading in and out. In the past two weeks, such actions have preceded raids on refugee camps, which are strongholds for militants.

Also, an Israeli helicopter missile strike killed a Palestinian driving his brother’s car near Ramallah, Palestinians said. The Israelis were apparently trying to hit the brother, who is wanted, the Palestinians said. Israel had no immediate comment.

In the Gaza Strip, a car carrying Israelis came under fire from Palestinian gunmen, and two Israelis jumped out of the car and returned fire, an Israeli military source said.

An Israeli army jeep speeding to the scene thought the two Israelis were Palestinian gunmen and intentionally ran down one of the Israelis, killing him, the military source said.

Israel says its military offensive is aimed at rooting out militants following a recent wave of violence against Israelis. But Palestinians say the Israelis have frequently fired indiscriminately, killing civilians and destroying homes and buildings that were not linked to the fighting.

The Palestinians have been calling on the international community in general, and the Americans in particular, to play a greater role in trying to stop the fighting.

Arafat said he welcomed the U.S. decision to send Mideast envoy Anthony Zinni, who is expected this week. ``We have to thank President Bush,″ Arafat said at his West Bank headquarters in Ramallah.

In Cairo, Arab foreign ministers called on the United States and the United Nations to intervene, and took up a Saudi peace plan that has the backing of many Arab states, though Israel has expressed strong reservations.

Facing pressure from the usually friendly U.S. administration, Sharon said Friday he would ease his longstanding demand for a week of absolute calm before moving forward with a U.S. truce plan. But his remarks were met with deep skepticism from the Palestinian side.

``Words are not enough. Sharon and his government have to stop their continuous massacres against Palestinian civilians, cities, villages and refugee camps,″ said Nabil Abu Rdeneh, a spokesman for Arafat. ``There is no military solution.″

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