Monday, 4 March 2002

Israeli air strike

Hamas: Israel to pay 'heavy price'
By Matthew Kalman, USA TODAY

03/04/2002 - Updated 10:26 PM ET

JERUSALEM — The Hamas terrorist group vowed revenge Monday for the deaths of the wife and three children of one of its leaders. They were among at least 17 Palestinians killed in Israeli military strikes in the West Bank and Gaza.

The Israeli attacks were ordered by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who is stepping up pressure on the Palestinians after weekend attacks killed 22 Israelis. The 22nd victim died Monday in an Israeli hospital.

The strikes on Palestinian targets continued into the night Monday. Israeli helicopters fired missiles at Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's headquarters in the West Bank town of Ramallah. The missiles hit a building a few dozen yards from Arafat's office, witnesses said. Palestinian security officials said Israeli F-16s dropped bombs on Arafat's Bethlehem headquarters. Four Palestinians were wounded in Bethlehem.

Earlier, the wife and three children of Hussein Abu Kweik, a Hamas leader in Ramallah, were killed when an Israeli tank shelled their pickup. Bushra Abu Kweik, 38, had just picked up her children — Aziza, 14, Barra, 13, and Mohammed, 10 — from school in Ramallah. Arafat Ibrahim al-Masri, 16, and Haima al-Masri, 7, who were in a nearby car, also died. Israeli military officials apologized later and said the civilians were killed by mistake.

Abu Kweik said his wife, two daughters and son were martyrs to the Palestinian cause. "Despite the catastrophe, I say to Sharon and to his filthy gang that our determination will not be weakened, and we will keep steadfast in our land," he said.

Hamas spiritual leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin vowed revenge for the incident. "It is a Zionist crime. Israel shoulders the responsibility and will pay a heavy price," Yassin said.

Palestinian officials said the Israelis were trying to assassinate Abu Kweik. Hamas has claimed responsibility for a number of recent suicide bombings against Israelis.

Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer expressed "regret over the loss of civilian Palestinian lives as a result of Israeli tank fire." He said Israeli forces were aiming at a vehicle carrying armed men.

In the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank, six Palestinians were killed and 20 wounded, eight of them seriously, by Israeli fire, hospital officials said.

A Palestinian physician also was killed when Israeli troops at a roadblock opened fire on the ambulance in which he was riding. Saliman Halil, the director of the Red Crescent in Jenin, was traveling to the refugee camp to treat gunshot victims. The Israeli army said the soldiers fired when the ambulance tried to run them over.

Mustafa Barghouti, head of Palestinian medical relief, called the killing "another in a long catalogue of Israeli war crimes." Israel says Palestinian ambulances have been used to carry weapons and suicide bombers and must be searched at roadblocks.

Israeli troops also exchanged fire with men in the Rafah refugee camp in Gaza. Two armed Palestinians and a civilian were killed, doctors said. And, near the West Bank town of Nablus, Israeli troops killed a Palestinian man who ran toward an army checkpoint.

In Washington, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak told CNN he had invited Sharon and Arafat to hold talks at the Egyptian resort of Sharm el Sheik. Mubarak, on an official visit to the USA, said he hoped a summit could "change the atmosphere" and lead to a reduction in violence.

Contributing: Barbara Slavin in Washington

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