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Israel Hits More Palestinian Targets After Suicide Strikes

By Lee Hockstader and Daniel Williams

Israel pursued its withering assault against Palestinian targets across the length and breadth of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and Palestinians carried out more suicide attacks against Israelis in a spiraling conflict that raged on through the night despite President Bush’s decision to reverse course and intervene.

The Israeli attacks Thursday and early Friday killed at least 15 Palestinians, including a pair of ambulance drivers in the West Bank. Shortly after Bush announced his intention to send retired Gen. Anthony Zinni back here for more cease-fire negotiations, a Palestinian gunman sneaked into a Jewish settlement in Gaza and opened fire, killing four Israelis and wounding 20, according to the Israeli army.

The Israeli military almost immediately launched more missiles and opened fire with gunboats at official Palestinian buildings in the Gaza Strip and sent dozens of tanks and armored personnel carriers into Bethlehem, two adjacent Palestinian refugee camps and a pair of neighboring West Bank towns, bringing full-scale military action to the suburbs of Jerusalem. The bark of heavy machine guns atop Israel’s armored vehicles echoed throughout the city known as the birthplace of Jesus, and U.S.-supplied AH64 Apache helicopters fired into the Eida refugee camp between Bethlehem and Beit Jala.

As the tanks entered Bethlehem, a mueizzin in the minaret of a mosque in Eida called the alarm. “God is great. God is great. Stay in your homes. Defend the camp,” he shouted. But judging by the absence of small arms fire, there appeared to be no Palestinian resistance at Eida or at Dheishah, the area’s other main refugee camp that came under assault.

Several hundred Palestinian gunmen put up stiff resistance all day Thursday and into Friday against attacking Israeli troops at two other refugee camps, these abutting the northern West Bank town of Tulkarm -- which itself was reoccupied by the Israeli forces. Israeli officials vowed to keep their soldiers there and fight Palestinians in the camps as long as necessary to bring the Palestinians to submission.

Among the other Israeli targets were Palestinian government buildings, political offices, an intelligence headquarters and a large security compound in the Gaza Strip that’s been hit by so many missiles and bombs in recent months that just two of its 25 buildings remain standing.

The Palestinian ambulance workers were shot by Israeli troops in Tulkarm, according to Palestinian officials. Dozens more Palestinians there were injured, they said, including many civilians and another four Palestinian ambulance workers.

“No one can shake the Palestinians,” said Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader who has been confined to the West Bank town of Ramallah by Israeli forces since December. “If they believe there is anyone in this land who fears their tanks or missiles or Apaches (helicopter gunships) ... they are wrong.”

Even as Israeli forces widened their attacks, they failed to stem Palestinian violence and suicide attacks, the proclaimed objective of the campaign ordered by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

In addition to the gunman’s attack in Gaza, a Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up in a hotel lobby in the Jewish West Bank settlement of Ariel, wounding five Israelis.