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The BBC's Barbara Plett in Jereuslaem
"The motar fire has rattled the Israelis"
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Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee's Khalil Jahshan
"The Palestinians are not attacking Israel"
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The BBC's Stephen Gibbs
"Witnesses said they heard several blasts and that tiles were blown off the roof"
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Thursday, 19 April, 2001, 23:24 GMT 00:24 UK
Israel 'approves pinpoint attacks'
Ariel Sharon
Sharon has come under huge international criticism
Israel's inner security cabinet is reported to have approved "pinpointed" military action against Palestinian targets.

If Israel continues in this attitude, if tension keeps increasing, it will reach an uncontrollable state in the region.

Amr Mussa
Egypt Foreign Minister

But following this week's controversial 24 hour occupation of territory in northern Gaza, the cabinet ruled out long-term occupation of Palestinian land in the future, Israeli television reported.

As Palestinians fired more mortars on Israeli territory late Thursday, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told President Bush that American calls for restraint in the region had become useless.

The United States is continuing to try to restore calm in the region by stepping up diplomatic contacts with Syria.

Telephone diplomacy

According to the White House, President Bush telephoned President Assad on Wednesday and the two men agreed on the urgent need for all parties to exercise restraint.

Israeli tanks in northern Gaza
The Gaza incursion -'Sharon's first mistake'

But a Syrian spokesman later said that Mr Assad told the American president that repeated calls for restraint had become useless and Syria reserved the right to retaliate for Israel's attack on its radar base in Lebanon last Sunday.

On Wednesday Mr Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon agreed on the need for restraint by all parties.

International fears

The US has been unusually critical of Israel over the Gaza incursion, which raised international fears that the situation could spiral out of control.

Children in school on Kfar Darom Israeli settlement in Gaza
Life goes on in Gaza settlements despite mortar attacks

Mr Sharon has also come under fire from ministers for his failure to consult them ahead of the action.

But the Israeli Government insists it will use whatever means it considers necessary to protects its citizens.

The BBC's Jeremy Cooke says that if Mr Sharon responds with further violence over Palestinian attacks he will risk damaging Israel's relations with Washington.

If he does not retaliate, his opponents will accuse him of bowing to US pressure.

Press criticism

Mr Sharon, who took office in March on a pledge to use an iron fist to confront the Palestinian intifada, has also come under heavy criticism from the Israeli press.

Palestinian men amid bomb wreckage
Ramallah - gas explosion

"Last Tuesday will be remembered as the day Ariel Sharon committed his first mistake," Ben Caspit wrote in the Maariv newspaper.

The occupation, in violation of the 1993 Oslo peace accords, was soundly condemned by the Arab world.

"If Israel continues in this attitude, if tension keeps increasing, it will reach an uncontrollable state in the region," Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Mussa warned on Thursday.

More violence

There was more violence on Thursday as Palestinians fired mortars at the southern Israeli kibbutz of Nir Oz from the Gaza Strip and Israeli tanks were reported to have fired at a Palestinian security post.

Earlier in the day, a powerful explosion occurred in the centre of the West Bank city of Ramallah in an old building being renovated to serve as a local base for Force 17, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's elite security force.

UN complaint

Witnesses and Ramallah's security services did not report any wounded or dead in the blast, which Reuters news agency later said was caused by a gas leak.

Meanwhile the United Nations has filed a complaint to the Israeli army after soldiers in a tank blocked an official convoy at a roadblock in the Gaza strip.

Peter Hansen, the head of Unrwa, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, was travelling to Rafah where Israeli forces entered a Palestinian camp and demolished refugees' homes last week.

An Israeli spokesman said free passage was given to all humanitarian groups and the UN, but the convoy was held up because there had been no "prior co-ordination".

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See also:

19 Apr 01 | Media reports
Press split over Gaza attack
19 Apr 01 | Middle East
Analysis: Is Sharon coming or going?
18 Apr 01 | UK Politics
End cycle of Mid East violence - Cook
17 Apr 01 | Middle East
Sharon raises the stakes
17 Apr 01 | Middle East
Gaza wakes to tanks on the doorstep
17 Apr 01 | Middle East
Arabs condemn Israeli air raids
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