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 Monday, 6 January, 2003, 17:03 GMT
Israel ups pressure on Palestinians
Gaza workshop hit by Israeli missiles
Israeli helicopters fired at a workshop in Gaza
Israel has ordered its military to step up what it calls targeted operations against Palestinian militants after a double suicide bombing killed 23 people and two bombers on Sunday.

[Palestinian officials] violated the trust so we have the right to take such defensive measures

Ranaan Gissin, Israeli Government adviser
Among other measures, the Israeli cabinet also decided to stop senior Palestinian officials from travelling to London for talks on reforming the Palestinian Authority, a close aide to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said.

But, a proposal by Foreign Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to expel the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, was rejected by the cabinet, according to Israeli radio.

The attack in Tel Aviv was the first bombing in Israel in six weeks and the deadliest since last March.

Army radio said 43 of the around 100 wounded people were still in hospital on Monday, two in critical condition and five serious.

Restrictions

Hours after the attack, Israeli helicopters fired rockets at a large metalworking factory in Gaza City, which Israel said was being used to make weapons.

Wounded woman is taken to an ambulance
Scores of people were wounded in the bombings

Eight Palestinians are reported to have been lightly injured.

Israeli tanks also moved into the town of Rafah in Gaza, where they bulldozed the home of a member of the militant group Islamic Jihad and arrested several of his relatives.

Israel's security cabinet met overnight to discuss it response to the attack, which the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade - an offshoot of Mr Arafat's Fatah movement - said it had carried out.

Ranaan Gissin, a senior adviser to Mr Sharon, said Israel had decided to carry out more "pinpoint" operations against Palestinian militants.

Last month, Mr Sharon defended the killing of selected Palestinian militants, saying it remained necessary.

Other retaliatory measures agreed by Israeli ministers include:

  • Not allowing Palestinian officials to attend talks in London later this month

  • Preventing the Palestinian Central Council from meeting on Thursday in Ramallah

  • The closure of three Palestinian universities accused by Israel of "inciting terrorism"

  • Stricter travel restrictions on senior Palestinian officials, whose cars will be inspected when crossing from one area of the West Bank to another.

"They violated the trust so we have the right to take such defensive measures to make sure that such horrible terrorist activities don't take place," Mr Gissin said.

Attack condemned

Prime Minister Sharon blamed Mr Arafat for the attacks, saying he had failed to establish a ceasefire.

Women leaving the scene of the blasts
Foreign workers predominate in the area hit by the suicide bombers

Mr Sharon, who is running for re-election this month, said that only when the terror had stopped would Israel be able to talk peace.

But the Palestinians' chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, said the Palestinian Authority had nothing to do with the Tel Aviv attack and condemned the targeting of civilians.

The al-Aqsa Brigade named the two bombers as Buraq Khalifa and Tamir al-Nuri from the northern West Bank city of Nablus - a stronghold of the hardline group.

There were also less specific claims of responsibility from the militant groups Islamic Jihad and Hamas.

Militants had vowed to take revenge for Israeli military operations in the West Bank and Gaza, which have been stepped up in the past six weeks.

Foreign workers

The Tel Aviv explosions - about two minutes apart - devastated the old bus station area and a busy shopping centre, injuring dozens of people.

Israeli police said the two suicide bombers were carrying as much as 10 kilograms of explosives each, packed with bits of metal.

At least four foreigners are among the dead - two from Romania, one from Bulgaria and one from Ghana. Some reports also say that two Chinese nationals were killed.

Mainly poor foreign workers - many from eastern Europe, Africa, Thailand and China - live in the district.

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's Orla Guerin in Jerusalem
"So far Israel's response has been restrained"
  Nabil Sha'ath, Palestinian cabinet minister
"This is counterproductive and ridiculous"

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06 Jan 03 | Media reports
06 Jan 03 | Politics
06 Jan 03 | Middle East
05 Jan 03 | Middle East
18 Dec 02 | Middle East
18 Jul 02 | Middle East
21 Nov 02 | Middle East
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