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Israel assures U.S. on response to suicide bombing

Special to World Tribune.com
MIDDLE EAST NEWSLINE
Thursday, March 6, 2003

JERUSALEM Israel has pledged to maintain restraint in wake of a suicide bombing on a crowded bus that killed 15 people.

But Palestinian sources said 11 Palestinians were killed in an Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip hours after the Hamas suicide attack in the northern city of Haifa.

Israeli officials said Prime Minister Ariel Sharon relayed a pledge to the United States that Israel would not launch a massive retaliation for the suicide bombing on Wednesday. They said Sharon told the Bush administration that an Israeli response would not derail the U.S. buildup against Iraq.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon convened his senior ministers on late Wednesday and agreed to continue Israel's current counter-insurgency policy in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Officials said none of the ministers proposed the expulsion of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat or of Hamas leaders.


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"If the question is what is more important: expelling Yasser Arafat or the war against Iraq, it is clear that Iraq is more important," Transportation Minister Avigdor Lieberman said. "Arafat can wait."

Palestinian sources said an Israeli military force that included attack helicopters and tanks raided the Jabalya refugee camp north of Gaza City overnight Thursday. The sources said 11 Palestinians were killed and 100 were injured in the Israeli operation.

Eight of the Palestinians were killed when an Israeli tank fired a shell toward a building at the end of the operation, the sources said.

A senior Israeli military officer said tanks fired three shells during the Jabalya operation. He said one of the shells targeted a Palestinian gunner who had aimed an anti-armor rocket-propelled grenade toward the Israeli force.

Earlier, a Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up on a crowded bus in Haifa, killing 15 people and injuring about 60 others. It was the first suicide bombing in Israel in two months. Officials said security authorities had been on alert for weeks for a Palestinian suicide attack.

After several hours of silence, Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack. Israeli authorities identified the suicide bomber as Mahmoud Qawasmeh, a university student and a Hamas member from the Hebron area.

A Hamas spokesman warned that suicide attacks would continue. The spokesman said the bombing was a message to the new government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

"The operation is an achievement for the Palestinian people and a message to the Israeli enemy that the uprising will continue," Hamas spokesman Ismail Haniya said. "It is also a message to the Arab and Islamic summits that the Palestinians need real support, not resolutions."

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