- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 2, 2001

JERUSALEM Israel defended its missile strike that killed two children and six other Palestinians from international condemnation yesterday as thousands of Palestinians turned the funeral into a massive display of anti-Israel rage.

Anger over the attack, which took place Tuesday in the West Bank town of Nablus, fueled fresh clashes between Israelis and Palestinians, including a protracted gunbattle in the West Bank town of Hebron in which a 33-year-old Palestinian man was shot dead.

Demonstrators in Nablus pledged to dispatch more bombers to Israel on suicide missions while Palestinian authorities intensified their crackdown on Palestinians who work as spies for the Jewish state, providing information used to carry out the targeted killings.

Nablus Mayor Mahmoud Alul, in an angry graveside address, said authorities would soon execute three of four men convicted late Tuesday of collaborating with Israel in the killing of a senior member of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah group last December.

Other officials said two more suspected agents would be put on trial today in Nablus for helping Israel kill militants and would also face death sentences if convicted.

"This is a crime people are committing against their own people, and it won't be tolerated," Mr. Alul said, calling on gunmen in the crowd of thousands to save their bullets for Israelis rather than firing them in the air.

The mourners, walking behind the covered bodies of the eight persons killed, chanted "death to Israel" and "death to collaborators." The pale faces of the 8- and 10-year-old brothers killed in the helicopter attack, Bilal and Ashraf Khalil, peeked out of the Palestinian flags used as their burial shrouds.

The eight killed four Hamas figures and two local journalists, in addition to the two children were the latest casualties of what Palestinians term an Israeli assassination policy. At least 46 persons have died in Israel's targeted killings since fighting erupted in the West Bank and Gaza Strip last September.

Israeli army chief Shaul Mofaz said yesterday he would have called off the missile strike had he known innocent civilians would have been killed. The two brothers were standing outside the building when an Israeli army helicopter's missiles plunged through windows of a Hamas office.

But Gen. Mofaz and other Israeli officials said the operations were Israel's only means of preventing Palestinian shooting and bombing attacks.

"We have a problem the Irish, English, Spaniards and Russians don't have we have suicide bombers," said Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, among the most dovish members of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government.

"What can you do about a suicide bomber? Threaten to kill him? Will it scare him? Once he starts out on his journey, there is nothing we can do to stop him," he said.

Mr. Peres said Jamal Mansour, a top Hamas leader killed in the attack, helped orchestrate the June 1 Hamas suicide bombing at a Tel Aviv nightclub that killed 21 persons, mostly Israeli teen-agers, and drew world condemnation.

Mr. Sharon convened his security Cabinet for five hours yesterday to discuss the results of the Nablus strike. In a statement issued later, he said Israel would "continue to reserve its basic right to self-defense and to fulfill its obligation to protect the lives of its citizens."

Security sources said the statement meant Israel would continue carrying out targeted killings.

Washington kept up its criticism yesterday of the Israeli measure, with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell insisting that the tactic is "too aggressive, and it just serves to increase the level of tension and violence in the region."

The European Union and Russia also condemned the Nablus attack, which prompted a new round of speculation among Israeli pundits about the likelihood of a wider regional conflict involving Israel's Arab neighbors.

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