Israeli forces moved into the region in response to a Hamas attack on an army outpost that left four Israeli soldiers and the two Palestinian attackers dead on Wednesday.
At the airport, bulldozers, protected by tanks and troops, tore large holes in the runway. It was the second time in recent months that Israeli forces had damaged the facility. The airport, opened in 1998 under the Oslo accords, has been closed for much of the last fifteen months due to the continuing violence.
Ahmed Abdel Rahman, a senior Palestinian official, called the destruction of the runway “a provocation and an attempt to destroy all chances of quiet to sustain the cease-fire.”
Fayez Zaidan, head of the Palestinian Civil Aviation Authority, told Reuters it would cost nearly $3 million to repair the damage.
The destruction of the airport, a major source of national pride among Palestinians, came as Israeli and Palestinian authorities reported sporadic violence in the region.
In the West Bank, two separate incidents left an Israeli and a Palestinian clinging to life. In the town of Hebron, a Palestinian man was shot and reportedly seriously wounded by an Israeli soldier.
In Jerusalem, masked assailants, said by Israeli officials to be Islamic militants, ambushed and repeatedly stabbed a 60-year-old Jewish resident as he walked near his home.
The violence comes as Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon sharpened his rhetoric against Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat. Sharon called on Arafat to arrest militants who killed an Israeli Cabinet minister last October or remain confined to the West Bank town of Ramallah.
“Except for security issues, there will be no direct contact with the Palestinians … until [Arafat] arrests them,” Sharon said in a speech yesterday. “Until arrests are made, Arafat will remain jailed in Ramallah and will not leave.”
For nearly 16 months, violence has wracked Israel and the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. During that time at least 803 Palestinians and 238 Israelis have been killed.