- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 4, 2001

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip Prime Minister Ariel Sharon announced his own war on terrorism yesterday, blaming Yasser Arafat for anti-Israeli attacks, and Israeli helicopter gunships struck a security compound just yards from the Palestinian leader's headquarters yesterday.
Simultaneously, Israeli F-16 warplanes attacked the West Bank city of Jenin, hitting a police building, Palestinian officials said.
Separate Israeli incursions thrust into several Palestinian-run towns early today, including Ramallah and Nablus, while Palestinian sources reported that Israeli armored vehicles had seized control of the grounds of Gaza International Airport a symbol of Palestinian statehood hopes.
The strikes were Israel's first retaliation for Palestinian suicide bombings in two Israeli cities and a gun attack that killed 25 persons over the weekend.
In a televised address, Mr. Sharon did not say what further steps would be taken but announced a "war on terrorism" and said Mr. Arafat had chosen "a strategy of terror."
"We are in war it's either Israel or Arafat," Mr. Sharon told a New York Post reporter in Washington on Sunday as he boarded a plane after he received word of the attacks.
The Palestinians, who began their biggest sweep of arrests against Islamic militants in five years, said yesterday after the strikes that Israel was the "terror-supporting entity."
Said Palestinian Information Minister Abed Rabbo: "We will resist this occupation and all these claims about the Palestinian Authority which are used to continue the war against the Palestinian people."
The White House backed Israel's strikes. "The president's point of view is Israel is a sovereign power," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said. "Israel has a right to defend itself."
Mr. Fleischer again called on Mr. Arafat to do everything in his power to combat terror.
The Arab League blamed Israel for the tide of bloodshed that has swept the region.
"To say that Israel is engaged in a legitimate state of defense is to ignore the truth. It is the Palestinian people who are defending themselves, faced with the military occupation of their towns, villages and territories," Arab League chief Amr Moussa told reporters in Cairo.
Palestinian suicide bombers of the militant group Hamas struck two cities within 12 hours over the weekend: Two bombers killed 10 persons and injured 150 in a crowded pedestrian mall in Jerusalem late Saturday, then another bomber in a public bus in Haifa killed 15 persons Sunday.
"The Zionist enemy will pay a high price for the crime it committed today of bombing Palestinian Authority locations in Jenin, Gaza City and we swear there will be revenge," Hamas said in a statement.
"Our answer will be the same size as Israel's crime," it said, adding that Hamas had still not completed its own retaliation for the assassination of a key military leader, Mahmud Abu Hannud, last month.
The strike in Gaza City wounded 10 persons, hospital officials said. Around 10 missiles pounded near Mr. Arafat's seaside headquarters and hit an underground fuel depot. The resulting fire sent a pall of thick smoke over the city. Two of Mr. Arafat's Russian-made helicopters were destroyed, one on the landing pad and another in a hangar. Mr. Arafat was in the West Bank city of Ramallah at the time of the attack.
Ambulances raced through the city, sirens blaring. Eight helicopters hovered over Gaza for about an hour, the noise of exploding missiles and the exchanges of submachine-gun fire mixing with mosque calls to the traditional prayer that marks the end of the daylong fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
The use of F-16s in the Jenin strikes were the first time the warplanes have been used against Palestinians in months. The Israeli military spokesman said Israel attacked Mr. Arafat's offices and a police building in the city. Palestinian officials said there were no injuries because the buildings had been evacuated.
In Bethlehem, a Palestinian was killed in an explosion in a house. Witnesses said he was apparently preparing a bomb, which went off prematurely.
Brig. Gen. Ron Kitrey, the Israeli military spokesman, said Mr. Arafat's helicopters were hit because "they were symbols of his mobility and freedom."
Mr. Arafat travels between the West Bank and Gaza Strip by helicopter.
President Bush apparently did not seek to persuade Mr. Sharon to hold back when they met Sunday, before the Israeli leader rushed home. Mr. Arafat "must do everything in his power to find those who murdered innocent Israelis and bring them to justice," Mr. Bush said Sunday.
Since the weekend attacks, Palestinian security officials said they had arrested 110 activists from Hamas which claimed responsibility for the attacks and Islamic Jihad. Among those arrested were two Hamas leaders in Gaza, Ismail Hanieh and Ismail Abu Shanab.
The spiritual leader of Hamas, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, was placed under house arrest and ordered not to speak to reporters, said the security officials.
Mr. Arafat declared a state of emergency in the Palestinian areas and gave orders to confiscate illegal weapons. Still, In the West Bank town of Nablus, about 1,000 activists marched to commemorate one of the Haifa bombers, despite a police ban.
The Palestinians have said in the past they cannot crack down heavily on militants while Israel conducts a policy of assassinating activists and of limiting movement in the West Bank. Mr. Shaath, however, said the weekend attacks had forced Palestinian security forces to act.
But Israeli officials said they were skeptical of the seriousness of the sweep.
Aryeh Mekel, an Israeli government spokesman, said yesterday's strikes were to send "a message to Arafat that the current situation can't continue and we expect him to act against the terror."
Israeli hard-liners were pressing for a larger campaign against the Palestinian Authority, with some calling for Mr. Arafat to be expelled from the Palestinian territories, to which he returned in 1994.
The past 14 months of fighting have killed more than 780 people on the Palestinian side and more than 230 on the Israeli side.

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