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Monday, 10 December, 2001, 17:44 GMT
Israeli missiles kill two children
Wreckage of the car hit by missile in Hebron
The intended target was an Islamic Jihad member
Israeli helicopters have fired missiles at a car in the West Bank town of Hebron, hours after the government rejected a truce offer by Palestinian militant groups.

Palestinian hospital officials said two boys - one aged 13, the other a child of three - were killed in the attack, which left seven others injured and destroyed the car.

Israeli military sources told the BBC the intended target was a prominent member of the militant group Islamic Jihad, which, along with Hamas, has carried out a wave of suicide attacks.

Our operations are yielding impressive results, but we have not finished our action

Ariel Sharon
Israeli Prime Minister

Earlier reports said the Israeli security cabinet had decided to step up operations against Palestinian militants, after the latest suicide bombing on Sunday.

That attack, the fifth suicide bombing in 10 days, injured 10 Israelis in the port city of Haifa.

A total of 29 Israelis have died in the attacks.

Cars hit

Two Israeli helicopters fired several missiles, damaging at least two cars in the centre of Hebron.

The father of the older boy who died, Ahmed Arafi, said he and his son were riding in a taxi behind the car that was hit by Israeli missiles.

"My son was next to me. I don't know what happened. All I know is that I carried my son into the hospital," Associated Press quoted Mr Arafi as saying.

The Israelis' planned target, a leading activist in Islamic Jihad, Mohammed Sidr, is thought to have been seriously injured.

Such attacks, which the Israelis call targeted killings and the Palestinians describe as assassinations, are highly controversial.

Senior Palestinian security officials say they received an assurance less than 24 hours earlier from their Israeli counterparts that such attacks would stop.

Truce rejected

A senior Israeli defence official described the ceasefire offer by the militants - amongst them Hamas and Islamic Jihad - as "not serious".

Yasser Arafat
Arafat insists he is doing all he can to stop suicide attacks
He ruled out any halt to Israeli operations against Palestinian targets, saying they were "purely self-defence".

The militant groups had offered to stop attacks within Israel for six days if the Israeli army ends its strikes on the West Bank and Gaza.

"We have not finished our action," Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said as he and his ministers held talks late into Sunday night.

He made it clear Israel would continue to act against Palestinian militants.

"Our operations are yielding impressive results," Mr Sharon told Israeli radio. "In the light of what is happening, we might have to step up our activities."

The Israeli attack comes as the US special envoy to the Middle East, Anthony Zinni, is reported to have warned that he would end his peace mission in 48 hours unless there was real progress towards ending the violence.

Israeli and Palestinian officials differ on what exactly Mr Zinni said, and BBC Middle East analyst Roger Hardy says the Americans are carefully avoiding the use of the word ultimatum.

But our analyst says the focus of United States pressure is on what it sees as the inadequate actions of the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, against militant Islamist groups.

The BBC's Orla Guerin
"Innocent lives have been lost"
Jihad al Wazeer, International Co-operation Ministry
"This is yet another criminal act"
Boaz Ganor, Institute for Counter-Terrorism
"It was definitely a regrettable attack"
The BBC's Kylie Morris in Gaza
"People are expecting more Israeli attacks"
See also:

10 Dec 01 | Middle East
EU adds to pressure on Arafat
09 Dec 01 | Middle East
New York solidarity with Israel
08 Dec 01 | Middle East
US urged to restrain Israelis
07 Dec 01 | Middle East
Turkish PM says Sharon targets Arafat
05 Dec 01 | Middle East
Mid-East splits Europe and US
04 Dec 01 | Middle East
Outrage at Israeli strikes
04 Dec 01 | Middle East
Arafat's Hamas problem
03 Dec 01 | profiles
Who are Hamas?
03 Dec 01 | profiles
Who are Islamic Jihad?
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