HEBRON, West Bank (AP) An explosion leveled the office of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafats Fatah faction in this troubled West Bank city Friday night, killing a member of the groups military wing and injuring eight others.
Palestinian security officials said an Israeli helicopter fired two missiles at the one-story building. But Raanan Gissin, an aide to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, flatly denied any Israeli role in the explosion. Israeli military sources described what happened as a work accident a term used when bombs explode prematurely.
I was walking and I heard a big explosion, and everyone heard it, said Mohammed Jabai, 34, There was helicopter in the area, but I didnt see it didnt shoot any missiles.
Jibril Rajoub, chief of West Bank security for the Palestinians, refused to comment on the cause of the explosion, which blew off part of the top of a neighboring house.
Palestinians dug through the debris of the building located at the center of the Palestinian-controlled area of Hebron. The body of Rajai Abu Rajab, an activist in the Tanzim, Fatahs military wing, was found in the wreckage. The injured were passers-by and were not members of Tanzim or Fatah.
Soon after, heavy gunfire broke out at a valley between the Palestinian village of Beit Jalla and the Israeli neighborhood of Gilo, built in disputed east Jerusalem.
The violence came amid worries about Palestinian retaliation after the killings of three Palestinians including a 3-month-old baby the night before slayings claimed by an extremist Jewish group. At the victims funeral processions Friday in Hebron, mourners shouted death to settlers, and the Palestinian militant group Hamas passed out leaflets vowing to teach the Zionist enemy a lesson it will never forget.
The Israeli government condemned the shooting deaths, while authorities said it could be a sign of a re-emergence of Jewish extremists.
An extremist Jewish cell, the Committee for Road Safety, claimed responsibility for the attack that killed Diya Tmaizi as well as the babys uncle, Mohammed Hilmy Tmaizi, 20, and a more distant relative, Mohammed Salameh Tmaizi, 23.
The cell is linked to the outlawed Kach movement, which advocates expulsion of Palestinians from the West Bank. The Committee for Road Safety was among Jewish groups outlawed after Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in 1995, but Israeli police spokesman Rafi Yaffe said such groups may be reorganizing.
In recent months it appears that a cell is organizing that is responsible for such shooting attacks, Yaffe said. We are making great, intense efforts to catch them.
Israeli nationalist extremists are believed to be behind at least four roadside ambushes in recent months against Palestinians in the West Bank, including Thursdays, Yaffe said.
In a sign of the increase in radical activity, the settler group Zo Artzeinu or Its Our Country, put an ad in the Makor Rishon nationalist newspaper Friday calling on Israelis to assassinate Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
Dont hesitate! Do the just and moral thing! Kill Arafat, read the full-page ad in the weekly newspaper.
The United States and the European Union condemned the attack. Sharons office issued a statement condemning all forms of terror and pledging to do everything possible to apprehend those responsible.
About 1,000 people followed the flag-draped bodies in a funeral procession from Hebron to nearby Idna, the familys home village. Mourners demanded revenge be meted out in Tel Aviv and chanted, Death to the settlers, death to America, death to Israel.
At the familys home, the mother, Rima Tmaizi, sobbing and choking on nearly every word, spoke of trying for 11 years to have a baby before Diya was born.
I lost my soul, Tmaizi, 28, said. God will lift my baby to heaven. Im sure our people will take revenge for him.
Nabil Aburdeneh, an Arafat spokesman, said Israel was responsible for the shooting attack. Palestinian Cabinet minister Ziad Abu-Zayyad warned of Palestinian retribution: Every attack invites a counterattack.
Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer on Friday gave the first indication that Israel may be willing to bend in its opposition to outsiders monitoring a cease-fire that largely unraveled without ever taking hold. Palestinians long have called for third-party observers.
Ben-Eliezer told Israeli television Friday that he opposes any observers, but if something will be imposed on us … then, without any other possibility, I will accept the presence of the CIA here.
His spokesman, Yarden Vatikai, said the defense minister was referring only to an extreme situation. Then, Vatikai said, something that could be considered would be an enlargement of the CIA presence here, but not some kind of active force.
In explaining Ben-Eliezers comments, Raanan Gissin, a Sharon spokesman, said Israel was opposed to any deployment of any type of force.
The position is clear; anything like deployment or placement of observers, U.N. forces or anything, we are opposed to it, Gissin said.
The CIA currently coordinates Israeli-Palestinian security meetings designed to restore cooperation and trust between the parties.
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