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Suicide bombing kills 2 Israelis

Israeli gunships hit Nablus

Israeli police explosive experts inspect the area hit by a large explosion in a shopping center at the  Jewish settlement of Karnei Shomron, in the West Bank.
Israeli police explosive experts inspect the area hit by a large explosion in a shopping center at the Jewish settlement of Karnei Shomron, in the West Bank.  

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- A Palestinian suicide bomber set off an explosion at a shopping center in a West Bank Jewish settlement late Saturday, killing two Israelis and wounding 26, Israeli police said.

Israel responded by striking at Palestinian targets in Nablus early Sunday with helicopter gunships and warplanes. The Palestine Red Crescent, citing eyewitnesses, said Israeli tanks also were moving toward the West Bank town of Ramallah.

The Israel Defense Forces said its warplanes struck the Nablus office of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, who was not there at the time. He has been virtually marooned in his Ramallah headquarters by Israel and not allowed to travel.

Sunday's raid is the latest in a series of events over the past three days that have rocked the West Bank and Gaza. It followed Saturday's attack by a Palestinian suicide bomber at a shopping center in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Karnei Shomron -- the first such attack on a West Bank settlement.

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The attack happened at a pizza shop in a shopping center at the settlement, located southwest of Nablus. The bomber also died in the terror attack, and nine of the wounded had moderate to serious injuries, police said.

It occurred about an hour after the end of the Jewish Sabbath -- a time when the center is typically crowded with shoppers and diners, police and emergency sources said.

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The victims were indentified as Nehemia Amar, 15, and Keren Shatsky,14. (Profile of Keren Shatsky)

Palestinian security sources said the bomber was 20-year-old resident of the West Bank town of Qalqilya.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility. But Palestinian sources said Hafez belonged to the Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades, a part of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The brigades formed after Mustafa, the former leader of the PFLP, was killed in an Israeli missile strike in August.

The PFLP is a Palestinian militant group that has committed numerous international terrorist attacks and has conducted attacks against Israeli or moderate Arab targets, according to the U.S. State Department. It claimed responsibility for the killing of hard-line Israeli Cabinet member Rechavam Zeevi last October that triggered a fresh wave of violence in the region.

The group rejects anything less than a total Israeli withdrawal from lands occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem. While the PFLP has been a member of Arafat's Palestinian Liberation Organization since the late 1960s, its military wing was outlawed by the Palestinian National Security Council following Zeevi's assassination.

Israel has stepped up military operations in response to new tactics by armed Palestinian groups. Earlier Saturday, Israel continued to enter refugee camps, attack Palestinian targets and search for suspects in the West Bank and Gaza.

Palestinian security sources said four Palestinians were killed on Saturday in the intensified crackdown, which comes in the wake of the firing of two Qassam-2 missiles last weekend and one on Saturday by the Palestinians. Three Israeli soldiers were also killed Thursday when their tank was destroyed. Both events occurred in Gaza.

Late Saturday, a Qassam-1 rocket -- a smaller version of the Qassam-2 missile, with a range of three to four kilometers -- struck an Israeli army facility in northern Gaza, the Israeli army said. No one was injured in the strike, and there was no immediate claim of responsibility.

Israelis view these Gaza developments with alarm. The attack on the heavily armored Merkava-3 tank marks the first time the tank's security was able to be breached, and the use of Qassam-2 missiles enables militant groups to strike deeper into Israeli territory than before.

Israel reacted by sweeping into several Palestinian towns in Gaza. Those operations continued unabated on Saturday, as Israeli troops entered the Palestinian refugee camp of El-Bureij in central Gaza early in the day and seized a regional Palestinian security post, the Israeli army said.

Two Palestinian teen-agers and a 30-year-old Palestinian policeman were killed, Palestinian security sources said. The Israeli army said Palestinians fired a mortar shell toward Israeli forces in central Gaza.

Palestinians gathered in the streets of the West Bank town of Jenin calling for revenge after the death of a Hamas activist on Saturday. Nazzi Abu Sabaa, a 27-year-old teacher, was killed in an explosion as he left his school and approached his car, according to Palestinian security sources. Sabaa was the second-ranking member of the Hamas movement in Jenin, they said. Two children and a father were lightly wounded in the explosion.

The Palestinians called the blast an Israeli assassination; Israeli officials had no immediate comment on the report.

The military wing of Hamas, Izzedine al Qassam, has conducted suicide bombings against Israeli civilians and operations against the Israeli military.

On Friday, an Israeli was killed at a checkpoint near Ramallah, Israeli security officials said Saturday, by a suspected Palestinian gunman.

Israeli forces Saturday also entered the al-Maghazi refugee camp in central Gaza with tanks and bulldozers and went into the small village of Juhu al-Dik in southern Gaza, Palestinian security sources said. Army forces were conducting searches in the village and had imposed a curfew, the sources said.

The latest Israeli incursions into Gaza come after Israeli F-16 warplanes fired three missiles at the Palestinian National Security Headquarters in northern Gaza Friday, killing one person and wounding 25 others, according to Palestinian hospital and security sources.

A spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces said the attack was in response to "the continuing attacks against Israeli citizens and soldiers and their escalation."

In Saturday's Qassam-2 missile incident, Hamas' military wing said it launched the weapon into an Israeli kibbutz near Gaza early Saturday. No one was injured in the attack. The rocket landed in a field in Kafar Azza, just south of Sderot in Israel, according to the Israeli army. Israel considers the firing of Qassam-2 missiles to be a serious escalation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In light of the attack on the Israeli tank on Thursday, Israeli forces Saturday removed shrubbery and vegetation from the Netzarim-Karni road where the soldiers were killed, in an attempt to deter future attackers trying to plant roadside bombs.

The Mideast situation has been deteriorating steadily since an upsurge of terror attacks and military operations by Palestinian groups began in early December.




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