- The Washington Times - Friday, October 28, 2005

JABALYA, Gaza Strip — Israel killed an Islamic Jihad leader and six other Palestinians in an air strike in Gaza yesterday, hours after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon vowed a broad offensive against Palestinian militants.

A missile blew apart a car carrying Shadi Mhanna in the Jabalya refugee camp, witnesses said. At least one of the other Palestinians killed also was an Islamic Jihad militant. Ten persons, among them bystanders, were wounded.

It was the deadliest such strike since March 2004, when Israeli missiles killed Hamas founder Sheik Ahmed Yassin and seven others in the Gaza Strip.

Hopes that Israel’s recent pullout from Gaza could promote peace talks had been dented Wednesday when an Islamic Jihad suicide bomber killed five Israelis. The militant group said the attack was revenge for Israel’s killing of its top West Bank planner.

Mr. Sharon said there could be no advance toward peace for now because of the “absolute failure of the Palestinian Authority in the fight against terrorism,” and promised a major military presence in the occupied West Bank.

“Our action will be broad and will not stop until it brings about a cessation of terrorism,” Mr. Sharon said ahead of a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Tel Aviv.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in a phone call to do more to rein in militants, and Mr. Sharon ruled out talks with Mr. Abbas until he took “serious action” against armed groups.

Mr. Abbas has preferred to negotiate with armed groups rather than attempt to disarm them by force.

Israel’s military confirmed that it had killed Mr. Mhanna. Earlier, its planes struck Gaza in what Israel called an effort to stop rocket fire from the territory. There were no casualties.

The Wednesday suicide bombing in the main outdoor market in Hadera was the first bombing in the Jewish state since Aug. 28.

The Palestinian Authority denounced the bombing and pledged to try to salvage the truce it implemented with the militant group Hamas earlier this year.

“We strongly condemn the Israeli aggressions against our people in the West Bank and Gaza just as we condemn the incident in Hadera,” said Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia. “What happened [on Wednesday] … is like spilling oil on a fire.”

In a potential prelude to a broader military campaign, an Israeli armored force swept into Jenin in the West Bank and arrested a local Islamic Jihad leader before pulling out again, Palestinian security sources said.

Troops also arrested the 20-year-old bomber’s father in the northern West Bank. Nine persons suspected of being Islamic militants also were held.

Islamic Jihad, sworn to Israel’s destruction, had vowed revenge after Israeli troops on Monday fatally shot the group’s West Bank commander, Loai Assadi, the most senior militant killed since the truce began early this year.

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