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Friday, 8 March, 2002, 06:43 GMT
Attacks overshadow US peace moves
A wounded Israeli from the Gaza Strip settlement
Gaza settlers were mown down by the Hamas attacker
A Palestinian gunman who penetrated a Jewish settlement in the Gaza Strip, killing five Israelis, has prompted a fierce Israeli response, despite a new US peace initiative.

Reports from the settlement of Atzmona in the Gaza Strip said at least 15 people were wounded in the gun and grenade attack late on Thursday. The gunman was shot dead by Israeli troops.

Palestinian carries girl injured by shrapnel in Israeli air attack
Palestinian civilians have been hit hard
The attack came in retaliation for a day of the most intensive raids by Israel on targets in the West Bank and Gaza since the Palestinian uprising began 17 months ago.

Israel's response to the Atzmona attack was swift, with raids in the Gaza Strip killing at least 20 Palestinians, one of them the most senior national security official yet to be killed in the conflict.

The settlement attack almost coincided with US President George W Bush's announcement that he was sending peace envoy Anthony Zinni back to the region in the next few days.

There are no assurances. That's not going to prevent our government from trying

George W Bush
Correspondents said the rising death toll and the increasing ferocity of Israeli military action and rhetoric had stung the US into action.

The radical group Hamas said it carried out the attack on Atzmona, with its 19-year-old gunman penetrating the heavily-guarded settlement to lob grenades and spray those inside with automatic gunfire.

Night of bloodshed

After the incident, Israel sent tanks and troops into two villages nearby, close to the Palestinian town of Khan Yunis.

Major-General Ahmad Mifraj - known as Abu Hamed, who was police commander in the southern Gaza Strip - was killed, together with a number of his bodyguards, when a tank shell hit his jeep on the outskirts of the Khan Yunis refugee camp.

The Intifada
  • Began September 2000
  • Palestinian frustration at peace process boil over when Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount, or Haram al-Sharif
  • About 1,000 Palestinians and 300 Israelis killed in 17 months of violence

  • As news of his death spread, hundreds of gunmen converged on Khan Yunis hospital, firing rifles in the air and calling for revenge against Israel.

    In all, 16 Palestinians were reported killed in the Israeli incursion and hospital staff said they had received at least 30 wounded.

    The local mosque was issuing appeals for blood donors.

    Israeli security forces said about 10 Palestinians had been arrested during the raid.

    To the north, Israeli Apache helicopters fired rockets into a police engineering facility. Four people were killed in that attack, including an ambulance driver who had been on his way to collect the injured when a missile struck his vehicle.

    In the West Bank, about 20 Israeli tanks entering the Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem early on Friday, sparking clashes with Palestinian militants.

    Palestinian sources said two people were killed.

    Witnesses said Israeli forces had taken up positions on three sides of Bethlehem by Friday morning.

    'Deep US concern'

    Speaking earlier in the Rose Garden of the White House, President Bush said he was "deeply concerned about the tragic loss of life and the escalating violence".

    Mr Bush called on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to try harder to stop attacks on Israelis and he appealed to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to do everything he could to make Mr Zinni's efforts a success.

    General Anthony Zinni in military uniform
    Zinni's previous missions have been overshadowed by violence
    Mr Bush said his envoy's mission would be to revive CIA director George Tenet's plan for reaching a ceasefire.

    "The United States will do all it can to help the government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority restore hope to their people and to the region," he said.

    He said the recent peace initiative by Saudi Arabia had created an opening for discussion, and he insisted: "There is a road map to peace."

    Mr Zinni left the region in January when his peace efforts were derailed by Israel's seizure of a shipload of arms allegedly on their way to the Palestinians.

    The BBC's Paul Wood reports from Jerusalem
    "This is not yet all out war"
    Israeli government spokesman Arye Mekel
    "We welcome Mr Zinni's visit wholeheartedly"
    Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat
    "Mr Sharon is trying to undermine the mission of General Zinni"
    The BBC's Caroline Thomsett
    "The violence has escalated"
    See also:

    08 Mar 02 | Middle East
    Analysis: Scant hope for US diplomacy
    07 Mar 02 | Middle East
    Israeli operations timeline
    05 Mar 02 | Middle East
    Head to head: Mid-East violence surges
    04 Mar 02 | Media reports
    Israeli cabinet clash over Arafat
    03 Mar 02 | Middle East
    Israel on the defensive
    03 Jan 02 | Middle East
    Tough times for US Mideast envoy
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