Israel rockets Arafat's compound in response to soldiers' deaths
publiziert: Freitag, 13. Okt 2000 / 08:01 Uhr

Gaza City - Israeli combat helicopters blasted Palestinian command centers early Friday as world leaders made frantic pleas to both sides to put an end to the worst violence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in decades. In Jerusalem, Israeli forces were on high alert, bracing for a Palestinian "day of rage."

The idea of a four-way summit was revived during a conference call between U.S. President Bill Clinton, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, according to U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity. British sources went a step further, saying Mubarak had issued invitations to the Israeli and Palestinian leaders to attend a summit meeting in the coming days. Asked about the possibility of such a gathering, Arafat said, "The most important thing before a summit is to stop the aggression against our people." There was no other immediate confirmation of a summit from any side. Weeks of deadly violence between the sides exploded in stunning brutality Thursday when three Israeli reserve soldiers were mutilated by a mob of enraged Palestinians in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

The Israelis suffered their worst losses yet as the current conflict stretched into a third week. In retaliatory strikes, Israeli combat helicopters fired missiles on Arafat's headquarters in Gaza City and on other Palestinian infrastructure. By night fall, Israeli tanks had circled Palestinian cities and the army had clamped an internal closure on the areas, preventing Arab residents from leaving their communities. Eight missiles were fired on a Palestinian police academy in Jericho after the centuries-old "Peace Upon Israel," synagogue there was burned. Many in the region described Thursday's chaos as a nail in the coffin for the peace process that Israel, the Palestinians and Clinton had personally invested in over the past seven years. "I call on both sides to undertake a cease-fire immediately, and immediately to condemn all acts of violence" Clinton said Thursday in Washington. But the tangible and psychological damage left from the day's events led many to declarations of despair.

"I believe Mr. Barak turned the light off tonight," said senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat. "When it's going to be back on, I honestly don't know." In a series of interviews, an angry Barak lashed out at Arafat, questioning the Palestinian leader's commitment to peace and holding him indirectly responsible for the lynching of the soldiers. Barak said Israel would go after those responsible and chided Arafat for releasing dozens of Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants from jails. Israeli officials warned of possible terror attacks in the heart of Israel and police went on high alert. "This is a grave act that increases the probability of terror attacks," Barak said. He demanded that the United States publicly affix blame to Arafat for the collapse of the peace talks and the escalation of violence. Palestinians declared Friday a "day of rage," and in Jerusalem, police forces braced for any violence following prayers on the Temple Mount or Noble sanctuary, as it is known to Muslims. A Sept. 28 visit to the Jewish and Muslim holy site by hawkish opposition leader Ariel Sharon ignited riots that spiraled into 15 days of deadly violence.

Politically weak, Barak planned a unity government. He held talks late Thursday with Knesset faction leaders including Sharon and invited his Likud party to join an emergency coalition. Sharon has rebuffed Barak in the past, but the prime ministry said the two leaders would continue to talk through the week end. For the Palestinians, Sharon's inclusion in the government would likely be seen as another indication that Barak was rapidly changing directions on peacemaking. Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat called Sharon, "the death kiss to the peace process." Thursday's turmoil appeared to extinguish hopes that Israel and the Palestinians could negotiate a truce and bring an end to the bloodshed that has left at least 95 people dead, the vast majority Palestinians. The rocket attack on Arafat's compound and other key Palestinian targets was the first time Israel mounted a major assault on important Palestinian sites since peacemaking began in 1993. A smiling, defiant Arafat was cheered by hundreds of Palestinians as he toured sites hit by Israeli rockets and then visited with wounded at a Gaza hospital. "Our people don't care, and don't hesitate to continue their march to Jerusalem, their capital of the independent Palestinian state," he said. There had been signs that Israeli-Palestinian violence was waning earlier this week but it erupted anew when the Israeli reservists inadvertently made a wrong turn and ended up near the center of Ramallah, a flashpoint of fighting between Israeli troops and Palestinian rioters. The soldiers, traveling in a civilian car, were chased by Palestinians and taken to the Ramallah police station. Word of their presence quickly spread, and more than 1,000 Palestinians surged toward the police station. Palestinian forces tried to keep the mob at bay, but about 10 men broke through a second-floor window where the Israelis were held. The attackers soon emerged with blood-covered hands as the crowd roared with approval. The body of one Israeli soldiers was thrown into the street, and the second was dangled down by a rope, where the corpse was stomped and beaten with iron bars. From the window, young Palestinians shook their fists and flashed gleeful "V for victory" signs.

At least one of the dead soldiers, a Russian immigrant married only five days ago, was to be buried in Israel Friday. There was continued confusion about the number of soldiers killed. The army said two bodies were handed over to Israel and later released their names. However, Barak later said that three soldiers were "lynched and mutilated." Israel's army said the helicopter strikes were a "limited action designed to respond to the barbaric act Palestinians conducted," in Ramallah. Israel played up the use of precision bombing techniques in their strikes although at least two rockets appeared to spiral out of control _ one in Ramallah and one in Gaza. Israel said it had no intention of retaking Palestinian-run territory but the assault showed Israel was prepared to call on heavy weaponry the Palestinians do not possess. Fighting continued into the early hours of Friday. Combat helicopters attacked the main compound of the Palestinian security forces in Nablus. Police officers fled into the street before the shooting began. A firefight erupted in the West Bank town of Hebron, and gunships attacked gunmen in the town of Salfit near Nablus.

(AP)

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