Israeli warplanes destroyed a large Palestinian security compound in the town of Tulkarm, killing a Palestinian policeman and injuring 20 others. At the same time, Israeli tanks surrounded Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s West Bank headquarters in Ramallah.
Israel blames Arafat for the deadly attack on a party celebrating a girl’s 13th birthday in the Israeli town of Hadera, and promised a reprisal.
“We are not going to just be sitting back and letting the Palestinian organizations take their toll,” Avi Pazner, a government spokesman, said. “They are showing an insatiable appetite for murder, and we will have to deal with it, and we are going to deal with it. That’s obvious.”
The shooting spree took place in a two-level room at a reception hall called David’s Palace. The hall was filled with children and adults, mostly Russian immigrants, celebrating a bat mitzvah — the traditional Jewish service to mark a girl’s transition to womanhood.
The lone Palestinian gunman walked in with a semiautomatic rifle and began to shoot. According to witnesses, the gun jammed and one of the guests threw a chair that knocked the gunman out on to the sidewalk, where other guests rushed and beat him.
Three police officers arrived at the scene and shot him dead, according to police.
The bat mitzvahed girl was apparently uninjured.
The Al Aqsa Brigades, a militia group linked to Palestinian Leader Yasser Arafat’s Fatah party, has claimed responsibility for the attack.
The group said that Abdul Salaam Sadek Hassouneh, a 24-year-old resident of a village near the Palestinian town of Nablus, carried out the attack to avenge the death of Raed Karmi, the Al Aqsa Brigades’ leader in the town of Tulkarem.
Karmi was killed in a bomb blast earlier this week. Israel has not taken responsibility for the explosion, but had targeted Karmi in the past. Palestinians say Israel murdered Karmi to wreck peace negotiations.
Before this week’s violence, there had been a lull of several weeks after Palestinian Chairman Yasser Arafat called for a truce.
Following Karmi’s death Al Aqsa ended a self-imposed cease-fire and said it would renew attacks on Israelis. The group was the last of several Palestinian militant groups to call off such a pledge.
The Israeli government, however, claims the renewed violence predates Karmi’s death. Pazner said the cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinian Authority dissolved a week ago, when two Palestinians attacked a lightly defended military outpost in the Gaza Strip, killing four Israeli soldiers.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is reportedly reviewing Israel’s strategy toward the Palestinian Authority, which currently has limited powers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Israeli officials say the options include a complete break in diplomatic relations and more aggressive military operations, like rounding up illegal weapons.
United States peace envoy Anthony Zinni had tentatively planned to return to the region today, but that visit has been postponed indefinitely. In another announcement from Washington, the State Department condemned the Hadera attack.
“Innocent people coming together for celebration of a wonderful event in the lives of people were interrupted by a terrorist murder,” U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said at a news conference during a visit to India.
At least 809 Palestinians and 246 Israelis have been killed since the uprising against Israeli occupation began in September 2000.