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Israel Cracks Down on Palestinians After Wave of Attacks

BY Admin  August 5, 2002 at 4:15 PM EDT

Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer said the army was “imposing a total blockade of the West Bank. Nobody enters and nobody leaves.” The Israeli army restricted movement, except for medical and humanitarian cases, in the West Bank towns of Jenin, Nablus, Tulkarm, Qalqilya and Ramallah, according to its official statement.

Israeli tanks also cordoned off the Gaza neighborhood of Rafah, isolating it from other parts of the Gaza Strip.

Hours later, Israeli attack helicopters fired missiles at a foundry the army said was a suspected weapons factory. Rescue workers at the scene told the Associated Press three people were injured in the attack.

The Israeli Army said in a statement it will continue to strike out against what it called the Palestinian “terror infrastructure” in the Gaza Strip, Reuters reports.

Earlier Monday, a car exploded at the Israeli-Arab town of Um el-Fahm in northern Israel, killing one passenger and injuring the driver. Preliminary reports said the passengers were two Palestinian militants on their way to carry out a suicide attack when the bomb exploded prematurely, according to Israeli television Channel Two.

The most deadly of the weekend’s attacks occurred early Sunday morning when a Palestinian suicide bomber detonated powerful explosives on an Israeli commuter bus near the town of Safed in northern Israel. The assault killed nine people, including three Israeli soldiers and the bomber. Some 45 others were wounded.

The Palestinian militant group Hamas claimed responsibility for the bombing, calling it revenge for Israel’s July 22 missile attack on a Gaza neighborhood that killed Hamas leader Saleh Shehadeh and 14 Palestinian civilians, including nine children. Hamas would not reveal the name of the bomber in reaction to a new Israeli policy of deporting the families of bombers and demolishing their homes.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who was meeting with his cabinet when he learned of the bus bombing, promised that Israel would “continue to act against terrorism in any way that we find it.”

The Israeli government on Sunday terminated its meetings with Palestinian negotiators and vowed a “fight without mercy” against terrorists.

Those killed in the weekend’s attacks included eleven Israelis (both Jews and Arabs), five Palestinians, and two Philippine nationals.

Israeli soldiers on Monday arrested a senior Hamas activist, Mazen Foqha, on suspicion he helped orchestrate Sunday’s bus attack. Foqha reportedly headed the Hamas military wing in the West Bank town of Jenin.

The Palestinian Authority released a prepared statement denouncing the bus bombing, but also warned that Israel’s policy of “mass detentions, repressive measures and home demolitions” was responsible for the recent violence.

President Bush told reporters on Sunday he was “distressed” to hear about the latest violence.