Wed, Mar 06, 2002 - Page 1 News List

Israeli-Palestinian violence a vicious cycle of retribution


In back-to-back attacks early yesterday, a Palestinian man opened fire on a crowded Tel Aviv nightclub, a suicide bomber blew himself up on an Israeli bus and gunmen ambushed Israeli motorists in the West Bank. In all, five Israelis and two Palestinian assailants were killed.

Also yesterday, a bomb went off in the yard of an Arab high school, lightly injuring seven students and a teacher. Israeli media said a previously unknown group, apparently consisting of Jewish extremists, claimed responsibility.

In the Gaza Strip, 15 Palestinians were wounded, three of them seriously, when an explosion -- apparently caused by a bomb that went off prematurely -- rocked a building under construction in a residential area of Gaza City.

The cycle of attacks and reprisals was one of the bloodiest in 17 months. Palestinian militants vowed to avenge recent Israeli military strikes, including shelling that killed five Palestinian youngsters on Monday.

Sheik Ahmed Yassin, founder of the Islamic militant Hamas group, said attacks would continue "until the full liberation of Palestine."

Ahmed Abdel Rahman, an aide to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, said the Israeli strikes were a "very serious escalation" and called for UN intervention.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, meanwhile, told reporters the Palestinians would have to be hit hard to understand that Israel will not succumb to violence.

"We will wage a relentless war against terrorism, because for us its a question of survival," said Israeli government spokesman Avi Pazner, adding that negotiations with the Palestinians could only resume once Israel won that war.

Israel's security Cabinet met yesterday to assess the army's response and Sharon reportedly proposed tightening the cordon of tanks near Arafat's headquarters in the West Bank town of Ramallah.

In reprisals late Monday for previous attacks, Israeli warplanes, helicopters and navy gunboats attacked the Palestinian leader's offices in Ramallah, the West Bank town of Bethlehem and in Gaza City. One missile hit several meters from the Ramallah office where Arafat was with his aides, but he was not harmed.

Yesterday morning, Israeli helicopter gunships fired missiles at Palestinian security headquarters in the town of Khan Yunis in the Gaza Strip, causing severe damage. One man was wounded.

Yesterday's violence began at around 2:15am when a Palestinian gunman armed with grenades, a knife and an M-16 assault rifle opened fire on the Seafood Market, an all-night restaurant and nightclub in a commercial district of Tel Aviv, where a group of women was attending a bachelorette's party.

The bride-to-be, Irit Rahamim, said that when the first shots went off, she and her friends dove to the ground. "At one point, there was quiet, and I told all my girlfriends, `Let's run away from here,'" Rahamim told Israel TV's Channel Two. She said her friends forced her to stay down. "It's good they did, because after that, there was more shooting."

Another witness said that at one point the assailant hurled a grenade that rolled onto the dance floor but did not go off. Three Israelis, including a policeman, were killed in the attack, and 31 were injured.

There were conflicting reports on how the assailant was killed. One of the patrons, William Hazan, said he fired at the attacker who at the time was stabbing another guest. Police said officers killed the assailant.

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