- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 1, 2001

JERUSALEM — Israel killed eight Palestinians, including two children, in a precision rocket strike on the West Bank town of Nablus yesterday, triggering condemnation from Washington and massive anti-Israeli protests throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The attack, which targeted leaders of the militant Palestinian group Hamas, immediately ratcheted up violence to its highest level since Washington mediated a now-defunct cease-fire six weeks ago.
Four Hamas officials were among the dead, including Jamal Mansour, described by Palestinians as among the top echelon of leaders in the group. Also killed were two Palestinian photographers who were in Mr. Mansour's office at the time of the blast.
Ashraf and Bilal Khader, brothers ages 8 and 10, were waiting to get picked up just outside the building when the missiles struck. Both died of shrapnel wounds.
Witnesses said missiles crashed through two windows of Mr. Mansour's office in the early afternoon, exploding on contact and turning everything inside the room — people, computers, office furniture — into a smoldering heap of debris.
In Washington, President Bush and the State Department deplored the attack as a violation of the cease-fire agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.
Mr. Bush's spokesman, Ari Fleischer, conveyed the president's views to reporters, saying, "Violence is violence, and the president has deplored the violence in the region." The White House press office said Mr. Fleischer's statement referred to yesterday's attack as well as past acts of violence.
A State Department spokesman, Charles F. Hunter, said targeted killings of Palestinians and the killing and wounding of innocent civilians on both sides are reprehensible and cannot be justified.
Some Palestinians said they saw Apache helicopters in the sky before the Nablus attack, though it wasn't immediately clear if the missiles were fired from the helicopters.
Earlier in the day, two other Palestinians were killed in separate incidents in the Gaza Strip.
The targeted killing was at least the third by Israel in two weeks, and appears to signal an intensification of what Palestinians call Israel's assassination policy.
Palestinians also attribute the death of six of their brethren in a blast Monday to Israel, though Israeli security officials deny involvement.
During the same two-week period, Israel has either sustained or thwarted a succession of bombing and shooting attacks by Palestinians.
Israeli security officials talk about having intelligence leads on an unprecedented number of planned terrorist attacks.
In the tit-for-tat spirit of the fighting here, which has gone on for more than 10 months, the latest Israeli measures drew fresh vows of vengeance.
"The Israeli people will pay a heavy price," the Hamas spiritual leader, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, said in Gaza.
"Israel has exceeded all red lines. The Israeli people will discover our blood is not cheap," he said.
Palestinians described Mr. Mansour, apparently the main target of the attack, as a political leader in Hamas who was not involved in violence on Israelis. Hamas says its political and military arms operate independently.
But Israel, in a statement issued by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's office, said Mr. Mansour and the other Hamas men in the building had carried out shootings and bombings against Israelis and were "in the process of planning further terrorist attacks."
The statement said Israel was investigating reports that two children were killed and voiced regret for "any injury and loss of life of innocent civilians."
The missile strike touched off a wave of mass demonstrations in the West Bank and Gaza and sporadic gunbattles at sites where Palestinian militants and Israeli soldiers have faced off since the fighting erupted in September.
The biggest demonstration erupted outside the Nablus building where Mr. Mansour and the others were killed.
As rescue workers examined the area, throngs of Palestinians gathered outside chanting "death to Israel."
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat called for two days of national mourning and urged the United States and the European Union to compel Israel to accept international monitors in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
"This is a very dangerous conspiracy to liquidate our cadets," Mr. Arafat told reporters in Amman, Jordan, after talks with Jordan's King Abdullah.
The State Department's Mr. Hunter, in Washington, said the United States deplores terrorism "in the strongest possible terms," but he called Israel's response yesterday excessive, highly provocative and an obstacle to efforts to restore calm.
In a related development, a Palestinian military court in the West Bank town of Tulkarm sentenced four Palestinians to death for helping Israel kill Thabet Thabet, a leading member of Mr. Arafat's Fatah group in the city, in December.
Israel has a network of Palestinian collaborators in the West Bank and Gaza. Some have provided pinpoint information on the whereabouts of militants, helping Israel kill them.
The court released a fifth man, ruling that was he was mentally ill.
Israel's targeted killings have sparked a hunt for collaborators by Palestinian police.
Palestinian authorities have executed at least two Palestinian collaborators in the past 10 months after they were convicted of assisting Israel in the targeted killings.
In Gaza, a member of the militant Islamic Jihad group was killed during what the organization said was a clash with Israeli soldiers, though the army denied it was involved in any exchange of fire in the area.
Separately, Palestinian officials said a Palestinian policeman was killed during an Israeli tank incursion yards into Palestinian-run territory south of Gaza City.

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