Powell, Arabs blast Israel for Gaza action
Palestinian attacks 'provocative,' says U.S. secretary of state
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell took both Palestinians and Israelis to task on Tuesday for violence in the Mideast, calling a series of Israeli raids in Gaza an "excessive" response to "provocative" Palestinian actions.
"The situation is threatening to escalate further, posing a risk of broader conflict," said Powell. (more on Powell's comments)
Powell's comments came in a strongly worded statement read by State Department spokesman Richard Boucher in Washington.
"The hostilities last night in Gaza were precipitated by the provocative Palestinian mortar attacks on Israel," Powell said. "The Israeli response was excessive and disproportionate."
Israeli troops used a series of air, land and sea raids to occupy an L-shaped section of northern Gaza on Tuesday, sparking loud protests from Palestinians and their Arab allies.
Israeli generals said the raids were in response to mortar attacks on Israeli towns and warned they could occupy the area "for months."
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat condemned the raids, which he said were "not just an escalation."
"They are dirty," he said. "They are intended to bring our people to their knees. Everyone should understand that our people are steadfast and will not kneel before these gangs attacking our people, villages and refugee camps."
Normally soft-spoken Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak also blasted the Israelis, calling the raids and occupation "beyond the limit of what is acceptable."
"These strikes will have no effect, will lead to nothing other than more violence and bring an end to stability and the Israeli people will suffer more," he said.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Mubarak said, was "endangering the peace process" with these attacks and one launched on Monday against a Syrian installation in Lebanon.
At least two Palestinians were killed and at least 36 wounded, according to the Palestine Red Crescent Society.
Since the latest round of Israeli-Palestinian violence began last September, more than 420 Palestinians have been killed, along with 71 Israeli Jews, 13 Israeli Arabs and one German.
Three Syrian soldiers were killed in Monday's attack.
Occupation to last 'indefinitely'
But Israeli officials insist that when the Palestinians stop their attacks against Israelis, so too will the Israelis end their raids and occupations.
"Once the mission is fulfilled and the shooting stops or the Palestinian Authority takes action to stop it, I believe we won't need to remain there," said Israeli Brig. Gen. Ron Kitrey on Israel army radio.
Israel launched both Monday's strike against the Syrian position and Tuesday's raids in Gaza after mortar shells fell near the Israeli town of Sderot about 5 kilometers (3 miles) inside Israel -- the deepest mortar attack into Israel in the seven-month Palestinian-Israeli confrontation.
The newly occupied territory includes the village of Beit Hanoun, where the Israelis said the mortar attacks have originated. Israeli soldiers have also been deployed along the road from Karni to Netzarim, and in points near Gush Katif.
The military wing of the Muslim group Hamas took responsibility for the mortar attack launched at Sderot in the Negev Desert, saying it was retaliating against earlier Israeli strikes at Palestinian targets. The group vowed more attacks.
The Israelis have also sealed Gaza's borders, preventing movement into and out of the area.
The Israel Defense Forces said that the raids' targets included:
Israeli troops shot dead 17-year-old Palestinian Bassam Zaharan in the West Bank, who Israelis said had stabbed an Israeli soldier.
In Gaza, the Palestine Red Crescent Society said a 12-year-old Palestinian boy was shot and killed near Karni Crossing and a 10-year-old boy was wounded when he walked in front of a tank at Rafah on the Egyptian border and was shot in the head.
CNN Jerusalem Bureau Chief Mike Hanna and Correspondent Jerrold Kessel contributed to this report.
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