Israeli Airstrike Hits Gaza City
The Associated Press
Feb 11 2002 4:58PM
JERUSALEM (AP) - Israel unleashed another airstrike on Palestinian offices in Gaza City on Monday, while the defense minister declared that Palestinian militants had raised the stakes in the Mideast conflict by firing new, longer-range rockets.
The Islamic movement Hamas sent a pair of Qassam-2 rockets into southern Israel on Sunday, digging large craters in two farm fields. Israel viewed it as a serious military escalation, because rockets launched from the West Bank and Gaza could reach some Israeli cities.
In response, Israeli warplanes fired six missiles Monday into the walled Saraya security compound in downtown Gaza City, setting buildings ablaze and sending black smoke into the sky.
More than 30 people were injured, most of them lightly, including George Kochaniec, a photographer for Denver's Rocky Mountain News. He was treated for a hand injury.
The attack came at a time of changeover between morning and afternoon shifts at nearby schools. The streets were crowded with youngsters, who raced away from the explosions, some screaming in panic.
Hundreds of Palestinians ran to the compound, demanding that suspected Islamic militants jailed there be released. Some threw stones at officers, who fired in the air to keep back the crowd. Palestinian police said all detainees were moved to another prison shortly after the Israeli attack.
In the West Bank city of Hebron on Monday, about 300 people stormed a prison and released 17 prisoners as security guards stood aside. One of the prisoners was Islamic Jihad activist Ayub Sidr. Palestinians said he was once the target of an Israeli assassination attempt.
Israel warplanes blasted a separate Gaza City security compound Sunday night near the offices of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
In Washington, State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher criticized Israel's bombing in populated areas, warning that they could intensify the fighting. He also called on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to make efforts to stop the rocket attacks.
Speaking about the rocket attack, Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said it represented ``a new level of threat.''
``You try to deal with it in all sorts of ways - by intelligence, by prevention and by struggling against those places where you suspect and discover that there are factories or workshops for manufacturing those rockets,'' Ben-Eliezer said.
The rocket attack on Sunday was the first with the homemade Qassam-2 rocket in 16 months of fighting. The Qassam-2 has a range of three to five miles, enough to hit Israeli towns from the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In the past, Hamas has fired several shorter-range Qassam-1 rockets that caused no damage.
Arafat, who has been restricted to the West Bank town of Ramallah by Israeli forces for the past two months, denounced the airstrikes and called for international intervention. That oft-stated plea has brought many foreign diplomatic delegations, but no international peacekeepers.
``These attacks prove that (Israel's) government is not interested in quiet and stability,'' said Palestinian parliament speaker Ahmed Qureia. ``It should be clear there is no military solution to the conflict.''
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon met senior Cabinet ministers and security officials Sunday, and Israeli media reports suggested the army might reoccupy Palestinian areas close to Israel for an extended period to push rockets out of range.
However, Israel has so far refrained from taking over Palestinian cities and towns for extended periods. Such action would make troops vulnerable to attacks by Palestinians.
Israel and the United States have been pressing Arafat to clamp down on militants, including the Al Aqsa Brigades, which is part of Arafat's Fatah movement.
In a leaflet distributed Monday, the group issued a seemingly contradictory statement that said the movement had ``decided to dismantle'' in line with a decision made by Arafat and the Fatah leadership.
However, no such decision has been announced by Fatah leaders, who could not immediately be reached for comment. The leaflet also strongly suggested that the group's attacks would continue.
``This does not mean in any way that our resistance to the occupation will halt. It will continue in all of Palestine as long as the aggressive Zionist campaign against our people continues,'' the Al Aqsa Brigades statement read.
Palestinian security sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said police prevented a suicide attack Monday when they arrested a militant from the Islamic Jihad movement as he was on his way from the West Bank town of Tulkarem to carry out a bombing in Israel.
Security sources also said that the Palestinians arrested four Hamas men several days ago in Gaza. The detainees included Adnan Ghoul, regarded as one of the top figures in the group's military wing, which has carried out multiple suicide bombings in Israel.
At some point about 5 minutes from now I am going to decide once and for all that that entire section of the world, or of humanity at any rate, has acheived a level of incivility wherein we are moraly obligated to either involve ourselves on a level of total overrun or remove ourselves completely.
I become not sympathetic for these constant casualties of a war I think no God would support, but rather angry. Angry that so many people are spending so much energy hating. I think that we are coming to a point as a race where we need to say, "That section, that group, that echlon, has ceased to be of value to the whole." Like a parent spanking a child, etc., we need to give a 48-hour notice to the residents of Israel, Palistine, and areas otherwise involved, and then simply go in there with some very large bulldozers and use the area to grow food for the hungry children in China.