As troops there searched for some 20 militants believed linked to the bombing, a senior United Nations worker was shot and killed after getting caught in a crossfire in the West Bank town of Jenin.
Tanks and armored personnel carriers rolled into Bethlehem early Friday, just hours after 22-year-old Nael Abu Hilail detonated explosives he was wearing on a bus packed with students and traveling soldiers. The military move came after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon met with his security cabinet to weigh a response.
“I have ordered the security forces to take all necessary steps in order to hurt those who try to harm us,” Sharon told reporters during a visit to a lookout near Bethlehem Friday.
He also cited a biblical phrase to warn, “Anyone who harms Israel, a little or a lot, will have his hand chopped off.”
Israeli forces said they were actively looking for those who had helped in the bus bombing. According to the Associated Press, Israeli forces surrounded the house rented by Abu Hilail’s family in Bethlehem and then destroyed it — part of a controversial policy intended to discourage suicide attacks and punish bombers’ families. According to the suspected bomber’s mother, soldiers also arrested her husband.
Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, who criticized yesterday’s targeting of Israeli civilians, blasted the Israeli response. Arafat accused Israel of destroying peace efforts, “not only with the Palestinian people, but with all countries in the Middle East and Arab nations.”
The moves in Bethlehem come as fighting in another West Bank town, Jenin, claimed the life of a senior U.N. aid worker.
Fifty-year-old Briton Iain John Hook, who worked with the United Nations Relief and
Works Agency, died after being shot repeatedly while in a trailer being used as the agency’s offices.
Israeli officials said Hook was caught in the crossfire during a gunfight.
“This afternoon we went into Jenin in order to arrest a senior Islamic Jihad terrorist responsible for killing, murdering … many Israelis,” Capt. Sharon Feingold, an Israeli army spokeswoman, told Reuters. “During our operation, Palestinian gunmen opened fire on our forces. A battle erupted — massive exchanges of fire in which we understand a U.N. official was hit. We immediately coordinated his evacuation to the nearest hospital and I’m sorry to hear that he did not make it.”
U.N. officials confirmed the reports.
“Several bullets hit the trailer and hit him,” Sami Mshasha, a U.N. spokesman said. “We managed to send an ambulance to transfer him to the hospital, but he was dead when he reached the hospital.”
Palestinian doctors who treated Hook after the shooting told wire services the bullets that hit the U.N. worker were the type used by the Israeli army. There was no independent confirmation of which side’s fire may have hit the trailer.
Violence was not contained to the West Bank. In the Gaza Strip, two Palestinian militants and an Israeli soldier were killed Friday in separate clashes.