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Israelis, Palestinians Trade Fire After Lull

The Israeli airstrike destroyed two buildings, including one used as a mortar shell factory, Israeli officials said. The Israeli army said it targeted the “Palestinian security apparatus that supports and aids terrorist operations.”

Palestinian officials said the buildings were used as offices and sleeping quarters for police and other security workers. The 18 wounded police officers and two civilians were later treated at a hospital.

Two Palestinians were shot and killed by Israeli troops in the West Bank later in the day. Israeli officials said the men were planning a terrorist attack.

Early Saturday morning, Israeli gunships launched another attack, firing at least eight missiles at a Palestinian military compound in the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah.

Increasing tensions

Violence has escalated between Israeli and Palestinian factions since last weekend when a series of suicide bombings in Jerusalem and Haifa killed 26 people and wounded some 200 others. The militant group Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack.

Israel retaliated by firing missiles on Palestinian territories. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon called the military actions part of a war on terrorism, assigning responsibility for the suicide bombings to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

“Anyone who stands up to kill us is subject to death,” Sharon said in an address to the country Monday. “We know who is responsible. Arafat is responsible for everything that is taking place here. Arafat made the strategic choice. He chose a strategy of terror.”

Israeli officials say Palestinians have not made a sufficient effort in that regard, rounding up low-level actors instead of the leaders or arresting and then releasing the terrorists.

U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni brokered a meeting between Israeli and Palestinian security officials today, despite the violence.

A statement from the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv said the discussion was “constructive and focused on security, specifically practical steps to combat terror and violence.”

In an interview with Israeli television, Arafat said he had done as much as he could to track down militants, so far arresting 17 of 33 people on a list provided by Zinni.

When the interviewer suggested the U.S. saw the arrests as a sham, Arafat responded, “Dear God, who cares about the Americans… The Americans are on your side and they give you everything.”

As violence increases, a poll published in an Israeli newspaper today showed public support has spiked for “massive military action” against the Palestinians. The Gallup poll showed 71 percent of Israelis favor the action and 56 percent favor expelling Yasser Arafat from the Palestinian territories.

This week 39 percent of Israeli adults favor all-out war against the Palestinians. Half that many favored war last week.

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