- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 21, 2000

BEERSHEBA, Israel Israel intensified its assault on Palestinian targets yesterday, firing dozens of rockets at the offices of Palestinian security forces in Gaza City after the bombing of an Israeli school bus killed two persons and wounded nine.
The bloodletting came just two days after a pledge by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to reduce the level of violence in the West Bank and Gaza, and spoiled faint hopes of a return to the bargaining table.
Two Israelis died in the violence and a Palestinian was killed in a separate clash in the Gaza Strip, bringing the total number of casualties since the fighting erupted in late September to 245 mostly Palestinians.
It began in the Gaza Strip yesterday, where Palestinian militants set off a large bomb on a road near the Kfar Darom settlement, just as an Israeli bus was transporting children to school.
The bomb, estimated to weigh more than 100 pounds, pierced the specially armored shell of the bus and sprayed shrapnel at several dozen children and adults on board.
Two teachers in their 30s a mother of four and a father of six were killed in the attack and nine children were wounded.
Two obscure Palestinian groups claimed responsibility for the attack, but Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak blamed Mr. Arafat's Fatah group and ordered missile strikes from helicopters and gunboats on at least 12 buildings that housed various wings of the Palestinian security apparatus.
"The attack itself is, in our eyes, the direct responsibility of the Palestinian Authority. That's why we acted today with power against Palestinian Authority targets in the Gaza Strip," Mr. Barak told reporters in Soroka hospital in Beersheba, where he visited the children wounded in the bus bombing.
But Mr. Arafat's Palestinian Authority, in an official statement, denied any connection to the bombing and said it held Israel responsible for the criminal aggression embodied in the helicopter attacks.
"The [bombing] incident that took place is in an area that's under their control, under their security jurisdiction and they have to blame themselves," said Mr. Arafat's spokesman, Nabil Abu Rdaineh.
The missiles hit the main Palestinian police and security agency buildings in Gaza, along with the radio transmitters of Voice of Palestine, which Israel accuses of broadcasting anti-Israel incitement.
Mr. Arafat's beachfront headquarters went unscathed.
Parts of Gaza were left without electricity as a result of the attack, much the way Beirut had been darkened by Israeli air strikes repeatedly during an 18-year guerrilla war that ended in May with the withdrawal of Israeli troops.
A few dozen Palestinians were hospitalized as a result of the strikes, but most suffered shock or light bruises and not serious wounds.
"These acts will cost the Israeli government very dearly," said Palestinian Cabinet minister Hassan Asfour, a longtime peace negotiator with Israel who has struck a particularly defiant tone since the fighting erupted.
"Barak now has to start recording the number of Israeli deaths. The Palestinian people will not get on its knees," he said.
The attack on the school bus near Kfar Darom followed a strategy by Palestinians to target settlers, hoping to compel Israel to abandon communities in the West Bank and Gaza and make more room for a Palestinian state.
For at least one of the schoolchildren, it was the second attack on her bus in two years. Eight-year-old Heli Hadad suffered broken bones and a torn ligament in yesterday's bombing.
She emerged unscathed from a similar attack in 1998 that killed a soldier in the convoy.
"She was lucky," said her father, Yossi Hadad, pacing the corridor outside the operating room of Beersheba's Soroka hospital, where Heli was undergoing surgery. "They say she's going to be OK."
Mr. Hadad heard the explosion from his home in Kfar Darom, a settlement wedged between Gaza City and Khan Younis, two of the coastal strip's large Palestinian population centers.
He got into his car and rushed to the scene of the bombing.
Heli already had been carried off the bus and placed in an ambulance.
"I climbed into the ambulance and held my daughter's hand. She was hit in the legs, there was a lot of blood," Mr. Hadad said.
Just below his waist, where a pistol was neatly packed, blood from his daughter's wounds stained his pants.
Another Kfar Darom resident, Ophir Cohen, said his three children were sitting in the front seat of the bus when the bomb went off.
All three were seriously wounded and probably would suffer permanent disabilities.
Mr. Cohen's fourth child, a slow dresser, never made it to the bus. The bus, which had a military escort, was attacked two days after a Palestinian policeman tunneled into Kfar Darom and killed a soldier and wounded two, one of whom died yesterday.
Many Jewish residents of the West Bank and Gaza Strip accuse Mr. Barak of preventing the army from operating aggressively against Palestinians in order to keep alive the possibility of returning to the bargaining table.
Settlers who gathered to pray near the bus hours after the attack attached a sign to the shattered windshield saying: "Prime Minister, you have blood on your hands."

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