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Blast rocks central West Bank town

An explosion in Ramallah damaged cars and smashed windows on Thursday  


RAMALLAH, West Bank (CNN) -- A powerful blast went off Thursday near the Ramallah headquarters of Force 17, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's elite bodyguard unit, according to Palestinian police in the West Bank.

Three people were slightly injured, according to the Palestine Red Crescent Society.

The blast followed Palestinian mortar fire on an Israeli settlement in Gaza and a town in Israel overnight. Israeli soldiers returned fire, wounding a supporter of the militant Islamic group Hamas, The Associated Press reported.

The two sides also exchanged heavy fire overnight near Bethlehem in the West Bank.

The Bush administration urges restraint from both Israel and Palestinians. CNN's Andrea Koppel reports

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CNN's Jerrold Kessel reports on U.S. policy regarding the Mideast conflict

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CNN's Mike Hanna has more on the continuing violence in the Mideast

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CNN's Mike Hanna: Israel restricts UN movement

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CNN's Jerrold Kessel: U.S. pressure denied by Israel

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Arafat aide Ahmed Abdel Rahman: Aggression will not bring Israel any security

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Palestinian mortar attacks on Israeli targets and strong responses from the Israelis appeared on the rise in recent days, capped by a pair of Israeli incursions into Palestinian-controlled sections of Gaza on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The Israelis said the incursions were responses to Palestinian mortar attacks; the Palestinians said the incursions were a blatant escalation of the decades-old conflict between the two sides.

But the Israelis said the escalation came from militant Palestinians and their mortar attacks.

Bush urges Sharon to show restraint

Following a Monday mortar attack on a town five kilometers (3 miles) inside Israel, the Israelis entered northern Gaza on Tuesday, where they razed six Palestinian police stations and destroyed orange groves and farmland outside the town of Beit Hanoun.

The Israelis withdrew after a sharp rebuke from U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who called the action an "excessive and disproportionate" reaction to Palestinian "provocation."

But on Wednesday, the Israelis again sent troops into Gaza, this time in the south, where they smashed a police outpost they said was the source of gunfire at Israeli workers across the border. The troops returned to Israel when they completed their mission.

That action prompted a telephone call from U.S. President George W. Bush to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, urging restraint.

"Both leaders agreed on the need for restraint by both parties to avoid further escalation in the area," White House spokeswoman Mary Ellen Countryman said.

Sharon's office said in a statement that the prime minister "emphasized Israel's commitment to peace but stated that our utmost commitment is to the security of our citizens."

If the violence continued, Sharon told Bush, then "the Israel Defense Forces will have no choice but to carry out preventative measures."

Robin Oakley: Sharon's test for U.S.
April 18, 2001
Witnesses: Israel shells Gaza town
April 18, 2001
Arabs blast Israeli moves in Gaza
April 17, 2001
Israeli withdrawal follows harsh U.S. criticism
April 17, 2001
Jordan official discusses peace with Israelis, Palestinians
April 16, 2001
Israelis strike Arafat's guard unit's headquarters
April 16, 2001

Israel Defense Forces
Palestinian National Authority

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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