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Monday, 11 November, 2002, 22:29 GMT
Israel set for strike on militants
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz (centre) visiting kibbutz
Ariel Sharon (centre) is weighing military response
A new Israeli army operation against West Bank militants is looming after Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his new defence minister visited the kibbutz where a gunman killed five people.

Israeli security sources quoted by Reuters news agency said an operation would be launched soon in the Nablus area of the West Bank, from where the fugitive gunman is believed to have come.

Tulkarm - another northern West Bank city - was also named as a possible target for military action.

Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz - who has spearheaded Israel's crackdown in the West Bank - met army commanders before visiting Kibbutz Metzer with Mr Sharon.

A mother and her two young boys were among the five people killed by the lone gunman.

Pressure on Sharon

Mr Sharon is under pressure to take strong action after the new foreign minister, Binyamin Netanyahu - who is challenging him for leadership of the right-wing Likud Party - repeated his call for Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to be exiled.

A handpainted mural with a recent photograph of slain children Matan (L) and Noam (R)
A photograph of the slain children on a mural

In the Gaza Strip, Palestinian hospital officials and witnesses said Israeli troops shot dead a two-year-old boy on Monday. Israeli officials said the troops had come under fire in the town of Rafah.

Mr Arafat has said he will appoint a committee to investigate the kibbutz attack.

The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, an offshoot of Mr Arafat's Fatah movement, claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was revenge for the army's killing of an Islamic Jihad leader.

Fatah denies link

Fatah later distanced itself from the Al-Aqsa statement and said it had "no link" with the gunman.

The attack came at a politically sensitive time as Fatah is holding talks in Cairo with the radical Islamic group, Hamas.

Palestinian officials quoted by Reuters said Hamas had discussed a possible one-year halt to suicide bombings.

An adviser to Mr Sharon, Raanan Gissin, said Israel's response to the kibbutz raid would be "within the parameters of the actions we have been taking in the past few months".

Peace efforts

The attack coincided with a visit by an American envoy, David Satterfield, who is seeking to revive the stalled peace process.

Avi Ohion lost his two children in the kibbutz attack
Avi Ohion lost his ex-wife and two sons in the attack

The killings took place inside Israel itself, not in one of the controversial settlements in the West Bank, and targeted a kibbutz which had a history of left-wing politics and co-operation with its Arab neighbours.

The attack also happened at the start of an election campaign, as Israeli politicians vie to appear patriotic and tough on terrorism.

The Al-Aqsa statement threatened "more martyrdom attacks until occupation leaves our land and our response to the massacres of Sharon and his Nazi government will be tough."

The BBC's Orla Guerin
"By the time the gunman came here he had already killed two people"
The BBC's Jeremy Cooke reports from the kibbutz
"This is a left-wing community with its feet firmly in the peace camp"

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See also:

11 Nov 02 | Middle East
09 Nov 02 | Middle East
03 Dec 01 | profiles
25 Oct 02 | Middle East
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