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Israeli raid kills eight Palestinians, including three Hamas leaders and two children
Associated Press photoPalestinians carry a stretcher as they try to evacuate the dead and the wounded from the militant Hamas movement's office after the Israeli attack in the West Bank town of Nablus, Tuesday July 31, 2001. Israel's military fired explosives Tuesday in a raid on the offices of the militant Hamas movement killing at least eight Palestinians including a senior Hamas leader in the West Bank.

NABLUS, West Bank (AP) – In the deadliest incident of Mideast conflict in two months, Israeli helicopters fired missiles Tuesday into offices of the militant Hamas movement, killing eight Palestinians, including a senior Hamas leader and two young boys walking on the street outside.

Israel said its second helicopter raid in as many days targeted militants responsible for multiple bomb attacks during the 10 months of fighting.

The Israeli military “hit a senior group of Hamas leaders today who had committed terrorist acts and were planning others,” said a statement issued by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s office.

Shortly after the Israeli assault, thousands of Palestinians surged into the streets of the West Bank cities of Nablus and Ramallah, shouting for revenge. In the Gaza Strip, Hamas’ spiritual leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin said the “Israeli people should know that they will pay the price, and our blood is not cheap.”

Meanwhile, a Palestinian security court in Nablus sentenced three Palestinians to death Tuesday for helping Israel kill Fatah activist Thabet Thabet in December. Another man was sentenced to 15 years in prison and a fifth was released. Arafat has to approve the death sentences before they could be carried out.

In the West Bank town of Beit Sahour, a 57-year-old man who Palestinian security officials said was believed to be a collaborator with Israel was shot and killed by Palestinians.

After nightfall, Palestinian gunmen opened fire on Gilo, a Jewish neighborhood in disputed east Jerusalem. Also, five Israelis were injured, one seriously, when Palestinians fired at two cars in the West Bank.

A Palestinian was killed in clashes in the Gaza Strip. The Palestinians said a second man died, though Israel denied he was killed by Israeli forces. A Palestinian infant was wounded in an exchange of fire near Nablus and two Palestinians were wounded in a clash near Ramallah.

The Israeli airstrike was carried out with such speed and stealth that Palestinians in the area said they did not see the helicopters, which fired at least two missiles through the windows of the Hamas offices on the third floor of the seven-story building.

The Israeli army gave no details of the operation, but an Israeli government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed helicopters were used.

The Israeli strike killed six Palestinians inside the Hamas offices and two brothers, ages 5 and 8, walking on the street with their mother. Ashraf and Bilal Khader were killed by shrapnel, said doctors at Nablus hospital.

Their mother, Nadia Khader, was not hurt, but was hospitalized for shock. She wailed hysterically and slapped her face when told her boys had died.

The main target was Jamal Mansour, 42, a senior Hamas leader in the West Bank who has been arrested repeatedly by the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority.

Israel said Mansour was part of the Hamas leadership responsible for attacks that included the suicide bombing of a Tel Aviv disco that killed 21 Israelis. The June 1 bombing caused more deaths than any single attack in the current Mideast fighting, and Israel’s raid Tuesday was the deadliest action since then.

Two regional Hamas leaders, Jamal Salim, 41, and Fahim Dawabshe, 32, also were killed.

In Washington, the White House and U.S. State Department criticized the attack.

“We continue to strongly oppose the Israeli policy of targeted attacks, which in this instance has led to the deaths of innocent civilians. We deeply regret and strongly deplore the killing of civilians,” said State Department spokesman Charles F. Hunter.

President Bush urged an end to the violence. “All of us – all of us – have got to work together to convince both parties to stop the cycle,” he said.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II, after meeting Tuesday with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, spoke with Bush by phone and urged his administration to “move immediately to stop the deterioration in the Palestinian territories,” the official Petra news agency reported.

Israel’s targeted attacks have killed about 50 Palestinians since last fall, according to Palestinians, who contend the killings only fuel anger and further violence. Despite widespread international criticism, Israel says it will continue to carry out such assaults because Arafat refuses to rein in militants.

Israeli Cabinet minister Ephraim Sneh defended the raids.

“Anyone who thinks that the war against terrorism is a pingpong war, simply does not understand it,” Sneh told Israel radio. “You must also make pre-emptive strikes. As soon as you know about terrorists preparing an attack … it is your duty to strike them first.”

In Gaza City, Israeli helicopters fired rockets on the Palestinian police headquarters, saying the compound was being used to manufacture mortars. The Palestinian Authority denied the allegation.

Since the fighting erupted last September, 549 people have been killed on the Palestinian side and 133 people on the Israeli side.

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