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Monday, 4 March, 2002, 20:15 GMT
Six die in Israeli tank attack
Car's remains
A mother and her three children were killed
Six Palestinians have been killed in what appears to have been a failed Israeli assassination attempt against a suspected Hamas militant.

Witnesses in the West Bank town of Ramallah say a car belonging to Hussein Abu Kweik was hit by Israeli tank shells.

He was not travelling in the car, but his wife and three children were. Two passengers in another car also died.

Israel went on to attack Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's headquarters in Bethlehem and Ramallah on Monday evening with F-16 warplanes and helicopters.

The BBC's Caroline Hawley in Jerusalem says the target in Bethlehem is used by Mr Arafat's elite personal guard as well as Palestinian intelligence, although it was believed to have been empty at the time.

The targets in Ramallah included intelligence buildings inside Mr Arafat's compound.

There were no reports of injuries.

Shortly before the air strikes, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told parliament that Israel was fighting "a harsh war against a cruel and bloodthirsty enemy".

He told journalists that heavy losses must now be inflicted on the Palestinians.

Army apology

Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin vowed revenge for the attack on the car of Mr Abu Kweik, which he called a "Zionist crime".

An Israeli army official has apologised for hitting "innocent Palestinian civilians".

The incident follows the storming by Israeli tanks and troops of two Palestinian refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

I am sure that finally we will be victorious and peace will come to this house

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
Hussein Abu Kweik's wife, his 14- and 13-year-old daughters, and his 10-year-old son, were killed after the attack completely destroyed their car.

A second car travelling nearby was also hit, leaving another two people dead, according to Palestinian sources.

It brings to at least 17 the number of Palestinians killed on Monday.

The attack on the car came as heavy fighting continued in a West Bank refugee camp near the town of Jenin.

Palestinian hospital officials in Jenin said a 60-year-old doctor was killed when an Israeli tank fired on the ambulance he was in.

The army's chief spokesman, Brigadier-General Ron Kitrey said soldiers fired on the car because it was speeding towards them, "although it is still not clear why the vehicle exploded", and said it was a "tragic aberration".

But a medic wounded in the incident countered that they were driving "at a snail's pace".

Among the dead in the Jenin refugee camp is the local leader of the al-Aqsa brigades - an offshoot of Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction.

Ariel Sharon
Sharon told the Knesset he was confident of victory
The al-Aqsa brigades carried out a suicide bombing in Jerusalem on Saturday which killed 10 people.

It also said it was responsible for a shooting attack at an Israeli checkpoint near the illegal West Bank settlement of Ofra. The attack killed seven soldiers and three settlers.

In response Israel has said it will put continuous military pressure on the Palestinians after a meeting of the Israeli security cabinet on Sunday.

As the violence escalates, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has presented his plan to Washington that he host a summit meeting between the Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, who is also visiting Washington, will meet US Secretary of State Colin Powell later on Monday for talks on the Middle East.

Seventeen months of violence in Israel and the Palestinian territories have claimed the lives of more than 1,200 people - about 900 of them Palestinians and 300 Israelis.

The BBC's Orla Guerin
"Bloodshed here always guarantees more blood"
Chief Palestinian Negotiator Saeb Erekat
"It is a very grave situation"
Ehud Barak, Former Israeli Prime Minister
"We will not yield to terrorism"
See also:

04 Mar 02 | Media reports
Israeli cabinet clash over Arafat
04 Mar 02 | Middle East
Mubarak proposes Mid-East summit
04 Mar 02 | Middle East
Analysis: Sniper stuns Israeli army
03 Mar 02 | Middle East
Israel on the defensive
20 Feb 02 | Middle East
Q&A: Middle East conflict
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