- The Washington Times - Monday, October 20, 2003

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Israeli warplanes and helicopters hit Palestinian targets in five strikes yesterday that killed ten persons and reportedly wounded more than 100, including four children who had just been let out of school for the day.

The intense air assaults came a day after Palestinian militants fired eight homemade rockets from Gaza into Israel and Palestinian gunmen ambushed an Israeli patrol in the West Bank, killing three soldiers.

Militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad threatened revenge for the air strikes, and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon pledged more raids.

“The Israeli military will continue to act to foil terror attacks, capture murderers and liquidate terror organizations,” Mr. Sharon told parliament.

Later yesterday, the helicopters targeted a car in the Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza after nightfall, killing six persons and wounding 70, witnesses and Palestinian officials said.

Residents said one of the dead was a doctor who had been treating victims when a missile struck. The identity of the other victims was not immediately known, and the military did not comment.

The missiles struck the main street of the refugee camp, destroying the car. Hundreds of camp residents carried charred pieces of the vehicle aloft and chanted, “Revenge, revenge.”

In Gaza City, Israeli helicopters fired missiles at a building in the Shajaiyeh neighborhood that had been hit earlier that day as well, residents said. Eleven persons were wounded, they said. The military did not comment.

The first three strikes destroyed two weapons laboratories and warehouses of Hamas, the military said. Four children and a 70-year-old woman were among 23 wounded. Two missiles exploded on a street crowded with schoolchildren.

The air strikes came as American officials at the embassy in Tel Aviv confirmed that John Wolf, the head of the team monitoring implementation of the troubled U.S.-backed “road map” peace plan, was not planning to return to the region soon. Mr. Wolf left for the United States last month and had said he’d be back in 10 days.

A Palestinian bomb attack on a U.S. convoy in Gaza last week, which killed three American guards, had led to expectations that the United States would scale back its involvement.

Negotiations over implementing the road map, formally presented in June, have sputtered amid violence and political turmoil. The plan calls for an end to the 3-year-old conflict and the establishment of a Palestinian state by 2005.

However, except for a six-week Palestinian stand-down in the summer, clashes and bombings have continued. Also, the Palestinians have been unable to field a stable government, and with Israel and the United States boycotting Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, no recent contacts have been held between Israeli and Palestinian officials.

In his speech, Mr. Sharon called Mr. Arafat “the greatest obstacle to peace.” Therefore, he added, “Israel is determined to bring about his removal from the political arena,” referring to a Cabinet decision last month. In a newspaper interview last week, Mr. Sharon had indicated that he had no plan to expel Mr. Arafat — an apparent softening of Israel’s position.

Mr. Sharon’s criticism of Mr. Arafat was greeted with catcalls and prompted several Arab legislators to walk out of the chamber. The speech also received a harsh response from Shimon Peres, leader of the opposition Labor Party, who accused Mr. Sharon of being insincere in his peacemaking efforts.

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