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Israelis Strike Palestinian Targets

May 19, 2001

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JERUSALEM (AP) _ In the harshest retaliation yet for a Palestinian attack, Israeli F-16 warplanes fired rockets at security installations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip after an Islamic militant blew himself up outside a busy shopping mall.

In all, 16 people died Friday on one of the bloodiest days since the fighting began in September: nine Palestinian air raid victims, the suicide bomber, five Israelis at the mall and an Israeli motorist shot in a West Bank roadside ambush.

Seventy-two Israelis and 65 Palestinians were wounded, doctors said.

Israel used warplanes against targets in the West Bank and Gaza Strip for the first time since the 1967 Mideast war. Israel has attacked Palestinian security installations frequently in recent months, but always from helicopters or tanks whose rockets are less destructive than those fired from warplanes.

Israeli Cabinet minister Danny Naveh said Israel would not hesitate to send its American-made combat planes into the Palestinian areas again.

``The other side must understand that it will have to pay a heavy military price for terrorist action,″ Naveh said.

The Islamic militant group Hamas claimed responsibility for Friday’s explosion outside the Sharon Mall in the Israeli coastal town of Netanya.

But Israel has held Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat responsible for more than a dozen bombings by Islamic militants that have killed 22 Israelis in the past eight months. Israel says Arafat’s security forces have done nothing to stop the assailants.

The latest escalation appeared to dash the faint hopes that Israelis and Palestinians could reach a truce and eventually return to peace talks.

In Washington, Secretary of State Colin Powell called for ``an unconditional cessation of violence″ and urged Middle East leaders to speak out more directly against violence.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan condemned the ``appalling terrorist attack in Netanya,″ but said he was ``deeply disturbed by the disproportionate Israeli response,″ calling it ``excessive and misdirected.″

The suicide bomber, Mahmoud Ahmed Marmash, arrived at the Netanya mall shortly before 11:30 a.m., nervously pacing outside. Shoppers quickly became suspicious of the young Arab who wore a bulging blue sports coat on a hot day, and alerted police.

After a few minutes, Marmash walked up to the entrance of the glass-and-concrete complex where security guard Lior Kamissa was checking shoppers’ bags.

``I looked him in the eye, and he blew himself up,″ Kamissa said from his hospital bed. ``I didn’t see him push a button, nothing. He just exploded and disappeared. I saw big fire coming from this man and smoke.″

The blast scorched the entrance and sent glass shards raining down on the pavement. Two dismembered bodies lay on the ground, one face down, and rescue workers covered them with blankets. A stroller stood abandoned amid the debris, and a man screamed, ``my daughter, my daughter.″

Six hours after the Netanya blast, Israeli war planes fired rockets at Palestinian security targets in the West Bank towns of Nablus and Ramallah and a coast guard station north of Gaza City. Helicopter gunships shelled Tulkarem, the West Bank hometown of the bomber, and security installations in Gaza City.

At the Palestinian security headquarters in Nablus, rescue workers pulled eight bodies from the rubble and said three more people were missing. Bulldozers moved cement blocks to help the searchers. In Ramallah, one man was killed. Paramedics retrieved his body parts and placed them on a stretcher.

Arafat was meeting with his security chiefs at his seaside compound in Gaza City when several rockets hit the Ansar police compound, a few hundred yards away.

Arafat’s adviser, Nabil Aburdeneh, said Israel’s retaliation would not bring security to Israelis. ``Violence will bring more violence,″ Aburdeneh said, urging the international community to send a protection force.

In response to the air raids, several thousand angry Palestinians took to the streets in Ramallah and the West Bank town of Bethlehem late Friday.

Hassan Yousef, the Hamas leader in Ramallah, said his group would avenge the Palestinians killed Friday.

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