Subscribe for 17¢ / day

JERUSALEM (AP) – Israeli police said Sunday they were searching for Jewish extremists believed responsible for several shooting attacks on Palestinian civilians, including a deadly roadside ambush last week in the West Bank.

Israeli authorities said they wanted to quickly break up the extremist Jewish cell because further attacks, such as the shooting in Hebron that left three Palestinians dead, could lead to an escalation in violence that began 10 months ago. So far, no one has been arrested.

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said Thursday’s shooting damaged Israel’s image abroad.

“The attack harmed Israel’s position,” Peres told Israel radio. “Without warning, these terrible people came and made us look ridiculous. … They have brought shame upon the Jewish people.”

Israeli security forces have been on high alert since the shooting. A 3-month-old infant was among those killed.

Meanwhile, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat met Jordan’s King Abdullah II in Amman to discuss the possibility of convening an emergency Arab summit to bolster support for the Palestinians.

An official statement at the end of the talks said both leaders discussed “steps which could be taken on the Arab and international fronts to end the suffering of the Palestinian people and to confront the Israeli threats.” It did not refer to Arafat’s quest for an emergency Arab summit.

The Palestinian leader later left Jordan for the Saudi port city of Jiddah, where he held talks with King Fahd on the latest developments in the Middle East.

In northern Israel, police on Sunday found and safely exploded a pipe bomb found in a house in the coastal town of Haifa. One Palestinian man was arrested, police said, and authorities set up roadblocks and checked cars – causing major traffic jams – as they searched for additional bombs and suspects in the area.

Three masked Palestinian militants were moderately injured near Beit Hanoun in the Gaza Strip when they attempted to evade a roadblock manned by Palestinian security forces, a Palestinian security official said, on condition of anonymity.

The shooting occurred after rumors spread that an undercover Israeli army unit was operating in the area, the official said. In a joint statement the militant Hamas group and the Popular Resistance movement confirmed three of their members were injured.

An explosion in the West Bank city of Jenin late Sunday destroyed part of a house belonging to a known Hamas activist, witnesses said. The house was empty at the time.

Local Hamas leader Khaled Al-Haj said the bombing was “a failed assassination attempt.” The army said it was checking the incident. Israel has targeted a number of Palestinian militants for assassination recently, drawing international criticism.

Jewish settler groups have condemned Thursday’s shooting in Hebron, but said the attack stemmed from a deep frustration with the Israeli army’s inability to prevent Palestinian attacks on settlers. The settlers have been targeted throughout the uprising that has killed 531 Palestinians and 131 Israelis since September.

“If the state of Israel doesn’t protect its residents, then unfortunately, someone will stand up and take action,” said Hebron settler Baruch Marzel, a former leader of the outlawed extremist group Kach. “The surprising part is that it took such a long time until someone went and did such a thing.”

An extremist Jewish cell calling itself “The Committee for Road Safety” claimed responsibility for the shooting within minutes of the attack.

Police believe a total of four attacks have been carried out by the new militant group, said Rafi Yaffe, a spokesman for Israeli police in the West Bank. The same type of weapon, an M-16 rifle, was used in all of the shootings, Yaffe said.

Palestinian security chief in the West Bank, Jibril Rajoub, said Sunday he will submit to Israeli security commanders a list of Jewish extremists that the Palestinians want arrested. Israel says it has given a similar list of suspected Palestinian militants to Rajoub for him to arrest.

The chief of Israel’s Shin Bet intelligence agency, Avi Dichter, warned in a meeting with Israeli lawmakers last week that Jewish militants were organizing.

In addition, incidents of incitement and vandalism against Palestinians and their property are on the rise, Dichter told the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

The radical group Zo Artzeinu, or “It’s Our Country,” took out an advertisement in a right-wing nationalist newspaper last week calling for the assassination of Arafat.

“Don’t hesitate! Do the just and moral thing,” read the ad in the Makor Rishon weekly. “Kill Arafat!”

Copyright © 2001, Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.