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Israeli copters blast Gaza

December 09, 2001


GAZA CITY, Dec 8: Israel renewed air attacks on Palestinian targets early on Saturday to show Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat it “means business” despite his new pledge to crack down on Islamic militants, an Israeli official said.

The rocket attacks on Palestinian security targets were not meant to destabilize the Palestinian Authority’s control but to “show Arafat we mean business,” said Avi Pazner, spokesman to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

“Our aim is not to destabilize the region but to send a warning. Arafat doesn’t understand we mean business about keeping the ceasefire,” Pazner told AFP.

Arafat had said in a rare interview with Israeli television Friday that he was “extending his hands to peace with Israel” and “ready to implement all the agreements which have been concluded.”

However, Pazner said “the attack was a reaction to continued mortar fire by the Palestinian Authority itself.”

The army said Saturday the rocket attack destroyed Palestinian security buildings in the southern Gaza Strip in retaliation for mortar bombs fired at the Jewish settlement bloc of Gush Katif.

“Despite Israeli demands to curtail mortar attacks, several mortar bombs were fired overnight at the Gush Katif settlement bloc,” a statement said.

“Therefore, the army attacked Force 17 and Palestinian intelligence buildings in Rafah. These organizations are directly responsible for mortar attacks,” the statement said.

Force 17 is Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s personal guard.

Two US-made Apache attack helicopters fired nine missiles into three buildings in one compound in Rafah overnight, on the border with Egypt.

There were no casualties, as the buildings had been evacuated.

A total of 11 mortars were fired at the Jewish settlement bloc in the southern Gaza Strip since Thursday, the army said. No damage was reported.

An electric power transformer was also blown up, and Rafah was completely blacked out, a security source said.

It was the second round of air strikes against Palestinian security targets in the Gaza Strip in as many days, and the fourth this week in retaliation for suicide attacks by Palestinian militants in Israel last weekend.

The attack came hours after security talks between Israel and the Palestinians Friday brokered by a US peace envoy and after Arafat said he had arrested 17 out of 33 militants wanted by Israel.

“Zinni gave me the night before yesterday a list of 33 men wanted by Israel and I arrested so far 17 of them,” Arafat said.—AFP