- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 5, 2001

RAMALLAH, West Bank Israel unleashed air strikes yesterday in retaliation for Palestinian suicide bombings, and three missiles hit 50 yards from Yasser Arafat's office moments after the Palestinian leader was rushed to shelter. Israel insisted he was not the target of the strike.
In the Gaza Strip, a 15-year-old boy and a member of the security forces were killed in an attack by Israeli warplanes on a security installation, doctors said.
The bombs sent hundreds of schoolchildren running for cover, and doctors said more than 150 persons, many of them youngsters, were wounded.
Three Israeli missiles yesterday hit a security station about 50 yards from Mr. Arafat's office in a walled compound in the West Bank city of Ramallah. The shells knocked down a wall and damaged the roof.
Mr. Arafat was rushed to an underground shelter moments earlier when the Israeli attack helicopters were seen approaching, his aide Ahmed Abdel Rahman said. Mr. Arafat was not injured. The Israeli military spokesman said Israel had warned Mr. Arafat that an attack was imminent, something Israel has done in some past strikes.
The air strikes came just hours after Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his Cabinet branded Mr. Arafat's government a supporter of terrorism and singled out two organizations affiliated with the Palestinian leader as terror groups the Tanzim militia and Force 17, a branch of the Palestinian security forces.
Three Force 17 buildings, two in the Gaza Strip and one in the West Bank, were among eight security installations hit yesterday by Israeli missiles.
Cracks emerged in Israel's ruling coalition yesterday after Labor party members walked out of the Cabinet meeting. Labor leaders, while backing military action, also want diplomatic efforts to reconcile with Mr. Arafat. Labor members of parliament were to gather today to consider quitting the coalition, but even supporters of such a move said it would be days away.
A departure by Labor would destabilize but not topple Mr. Sharon's government.
Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, the Labor leader, said Mr. Arafat "should be given a chance," suggesting that the Palestinian leader would be able to take a stand against militant groups.
"I expect he will become a leader who makes decisions. Right now, he is reluctant and hesitant," Mr. Peres told journalists after meeting Secretary of State Colin L. Powell on the sidelines of an anti-terrorism meeting of European foreign ministers in Romania.
Mr. Powell said Mr. Arafat "needs to do a lot more than we've seen so far," but he cautioned against too strong a retaliation.
"We have to get back to a process that will lead to a cease-fire," he said.
Mr. Arafat, speaking to CNN after the air strike on his compound, accused Israel of trying to undermine his efforts to combat terrorism.
The Palestinian Authority has rounded up about 130 members of the militant Islamic Jihad and Hamas groups in response to weekend suicide bombings and shootings on Israelis that killed 26 persons. Israel views Mr. Arafat's moves against the militants as token efforts.
"They [the Israelis] don't want me to succeed and for this [Mr. Sharon] is escalating his military activities against our people, against our towns, against our cities, against our establishments," Mr. Arafat said. "He doesn't want a peace process to start."
Mr. Sharon on Monday declared a "war on terror" in response to the weekend's bloodshed, holding Mr. Arafat to blame and saying he has "chosen the path of terror." But he has stopped short of placing the Palestinian leader in Israel's gunsights, aiming largely at symbols of Mr. Arafat's rule.
The strikes have effectively grounded the Palestinian leader in Ramallah. Israeli missiles damaged Mr. Arafat's three helicopters in the Gaza Strip during the first retaliatory strikes Monday. Israeli troops yesterday tore up the landing strip at Gaza's airport.
"We have stated publicly that we do not intend to harm [Mr. Arafat] personally," said a Sharon adviser, Danny Ayalon. "But since he is responsible for the wave of terrorism, we had to hit something close to him personally."
In Gaza City yesterday, F-16s dropped bombs on the office of the Palestinian Preventive Security Service in a residential neighborhood. Hundreds of children fled a nearby school about 200 yards from the station after the first missile hit.

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