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One killed as blast hits office of Arafat's Fatah

Palestinians sift through the debris of the Fatah office in Hebron after an explosion on Friday
Palestinians sift through the debris of the Fatah office in Hebron after an explosion on Friday  

HEBRON, West Bank (CNN) -- One person was killed Friday in an explosion that damaged the office of Fatah, the party of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Fatah officials said Rajai Abu Rajab, a 37-year-old Fatah member, was killed when the explosion tore through his house, which is adjacent to the Fatah office in the West Bank city of Hebron. Two other people were injured in the blast.

There are conflicting reports of what caused the explosion.

Fatah officials in the West Bank said Israelis fired two surface-to-surface missiles at the building. But Israeli army officials denied the claim and said Israel had nothing to do with the blast.

A meeting of Fatah members had been scheduled at the house at the time of the explosion, but it had been canceled, said officials for Fatah, the political wing of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Meanwhile in Jerusalem, a police spokesman said Palestinians had opened fire from Beit Jalla toward the neighborhood of Gilo. Israel Defense Forces are returning fire.

Funerals for Palestinians

Earlier Friday, funerals were held on the West Bank for three Palestinians -- including a 3-month-old infant -- who were killed overnight in the Mideast.

The bodies of three Palestinians, killed in a roadside shooting, are mourned at a mosque prior to the funeral in Idna
The bodies of three Palestinians, killed in a roadside shooting, are mourned at a mosque prior to the funeral in Idna  

Four other Palestinians were seriously hurt; the dead and injured were from the same Palestinian family. A Jewish extremist group calling itself the Committee for the Protection of the Roads took responsibility for the attack in an statement sent to the media.

The car in which the Palestinians were riding was raked by automatic fire from gunmen in a car at the entrance to the village of Idna, west of Hebron.

Israeli police, asked whether the suspects are Jewish, said, "Yes, absolutely." They said extremist settlers or their supporters are the prime suspects.

As the coffins of the dead, draped in Palestinian flags, were carried through the streets, there were calls for revenge.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's office decried the attack and promised those responsible would be arrested. "The state of Israel condemns all forms of terrorism and will do its utmost to apprehend those responsible for this evening's attack," the Sharon statement said.

CNN's Jerrold Kessel has more on the continuing violence in the Mideast (July 20)

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The U.S. State Department condemned the attack and said, "Any attack intended to kill civilians is a barbaric act."

An umbrella group for Jewish settlers, YESHA, said if the attack was carried out by Israelis "then YESHA strongly condemns this criminal act."

Israel Defense Forces, anticipating an escalation in the violence, beefed up troop strength in the region.

The Committee for the Protection of the Roads alluded in its statement to restlessness among settlers who accuse the Sharon government of not responding forcefully enough to Palestinian shooting on West Bank roads.

The Israeli daily newspaper Ha'aretz reported that the Fatah faction had announced its members would avenge the killings by continuing to attack settlers. The Islamic group Hamas called on Arafat to announce formally an end to negotiations with Israel.

A call for international observers

The violence came as ministers from the Group of Eight countries called for international observers in Gaza and the West Bank to monitor a cease-fire and implementation of the Mitchell Committee recommendations.

Israel is calling on the G8 ministers to condemn what it says is the Palestinian Authority's failure to honor a U.S.-brokered cease-fire agreement.

Israel's defense minister said Friday that he is still against international observers in Gaza and the West Bank but would accept Americans, if forced to take monitors.

"We are opposed to any observers, but if they were imposed on us, the presence of American observers would be acceptable," Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer told Israel Radio.

"We could agree to this because the United States follows closely what is happening and knows how (Palestinian) terrorism is growing and that it must be fought," Ben-Eliezer added.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and his counterparts from Italy, Japan, Canada, France, Germany, Britain and Russia issued a statement at the conclusion of two days' worth of meetings Thursday in Rome, Italy, saying the Mitchell report was the "only way forward" to break the current deadlock between the parties and calling for a cooling-off period "as soon as possible."

Powell called the Mitchell report, which calls for a cessation of violence and confidence-building measures on both sides, a "road map" to negotiations for a peace deal.

• Palestinian National Authority
• Israeli Government
• Palestinian Red Crescent
• Israel Defense Force

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