Tue, Mar 16, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Israeli gunships seek revenge for suicide bombings

REUTERS , GAZA

Palestinian boys look through the rubble of a metal workshop targeted in the early morning by Israeli helicopters in the al-Zaitun area in downtown Gaza City yesterday. A dozen rockets were fired at targets in Gaza City overnight in apparent retaliation after 10 civilians were killed in suicide bombings at the south Israeli port of Ashdod, Palestinian officials said.

PHOTO: AFP

Israeli helicopter gunships struck two metal foundries in the Gaza Strip yesterday in apparent retaliation for a double suicide bombing that killed 10 people in Israel's second-biggest port.

Ten missiles slammed into workshops in Gaza City that Israeli military sources said had been used to make arms for Hamas, one of the Palestinian militant groups that jointly claimed responsibility for the bombings in the port of Ashdod.

The pre-dawn air strike, which wounded one person, was Israel's first military response to the bombings and followed its decision to cancel talks on arranging a long-delayed Israeli-Palestinian peace summit.

Israel and Palestinian militants have made clear their intention to bloody one another as much as possible so that each can claim victory over Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's planned evacuation of Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip.

Later yesterday, Israeli troops shot dead a 27-year-old Palestinian in the southern Gaza Strip, medics said. Israeli military sources said soldiers on a mission to arrest arms smugglers shot a man who ignored warnings to stop.

In the central Gaza Strip, militants fired an anti-tank rocket that exploded near a convoy of Jewish settlers being escorted by soldiers, Israeli military sources said. There were no casualties.

Sunday's bombings happened as aides of Sharon and Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia were wrapping up talks to arrange a summit on reviving a plan meant to lead to a Palestinian state in return for peace.

The Israelis called off further contacts that had been planned for yesterday ahead of a possible summit this week.

The Palestinian Authority, which denounced Sunday's bombings, called on Israel to stick to a US-led "road map" to peace which has been battered by bloodshed.

"Violence is a failed policy ... and the only way out is serious, credible ... negotiations," Palestinian lawmaker Hanan Ashrawi told CNN television.

Yesterday's early morning air strike in militant strongholds knocked out power lines and plunged much of northern Gaza into darkness, complicating the work of rescue crews.

Sunday's bombings were the first by Palestinians from fenced-in Gaza since violence erupted in September 2000. Security sources said the bombers may have tunnelled their way out or reached Ashdod, 40km away, by sea.

The attack was jointly claimed by Hamas and the al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an armed faction in Palestinian President Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction.

Palestinian militants had vowed revenge after Israeli troops killed 14 people in a Gaza raid on March 7. "The killing of Jews has become a form of worship that gets us close to God," al-Aqsa bomber Nabil Mas'oud said in a pre-recorded videotape.

Israel has vowed to take unilateral "disengagement steps" that would involve a withdrawal from Gaza, but also cost Palestinians some of the land they want for a state if negotiations remain hobbled.

In further go-it-alone measures, Israel is erecting a vast network of fences and concrete barricades in the West Bank as what it calls a stopgap precaution against suicide bombers.

The Palestinians, who denounce the project as an attempt to grab land seized by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war, said Sunday's bombing showed barriers were no solution to violence.

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