Sharon declares 'war against terrorism'
Suicide bombings kill at least 14, injure 37
JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon declared his nation was at war with terrorism Sunday as Israeli forces forged ahead with operations in the West Bank on a day darkened by two more suicide bombings that killed at least 14 people.
"Citizens of Israel, the state of Israel is in a war -- a war against terrorism," Sharon said in a nationally televised address. "It's a war that has been imposed upon us. It is not one that we have chosen to undertake. It is a war for our home."
Palestinian leaders, however, said Israel was to blame for the escalating violence because of its "occupation" of Palestinian territory, including the Ramallah headquarters of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.
Israeli military operations were intensifying in the West Bank early Monday, with tanks on the move in three villages. Palestinian security sources said tanks had entered Qalqilya in the north, Bethlehem and the Palestinian town of Al-Khader, south of Bethlehem.
Eight Israeli soldiers were injured -- one severely -- while conducting house-to-house searches in Qalqilya. According to an Israel Defense Forces source, they were wounded when an explosive device went off in one of the houses being searched.
"I cannot go into operational details, but I can tell you that we are going only after terrorists and terrorist centers, and their infrastructure," said Daniel Ayalon, a foreign policy adviser for Sharon. "We are not going there against the Palestinian people. We are there just to uproot terror."
As he did in a similar speech in December, Sharon on Sunday blamed Arafat for attacks against Israeli civilians and dubbed him "the enemy of Israel and the enemy of the free world."
Still, in an interview with CBS' "60 Minutes," Sharon said he was willing to discuss a Saudi peace plan with Arab leaders if U.S. President George W. Bush invited him to Washington to do so. (Full story)
For his part, Arafat -- pinned down by Israeli forces at his compound in Ramallah -- portrayed the Israelis as the aggressors and called on "international forces" to end "this military escalation against our people."
Sunday marked another day of violence and death in the region.
A suicide bomber set off a massive explosion at a restaurant in the northern Israeli city of Haifa, killing at least 14 people, police and ambulance sources said.
Several hours later, at least four people were wounded in a suicide bombing near a medical clinic in the Jewish West Bank settlement of Efrat, settlers said.
At least 33 people were injured in the Haifa attack -- three of them critically -- and taken to hospitals, authorities at the scene said.
Witnesses said the restaurant was crowded at the time. The building was severely damaged and a large hole could be seen in its roof. (Full story)
Izzedine al Qassam, the armed wing of the Hamas militant group, claimed responsibility for the terror attack on the restaurant and identified the bomber as a man from the West Bank town of Jenin. Hamas is a Palestinian Islamic fundamentalist group that the U.S. State Department labels a terrorist organization.
At least 42 Israelis have been killed and more than 100 wounded in a series of terror attacks -- five suicide bombings and a shooting -- since the Passover holiday began Wednesday night.
The deadliest attack took place in the Israeli coastal town of Netanya, where a suicide bombing in a hotel dining room killed 22.
In his address, Sharon said Israel's "hand is outstretched to the Palestinians in peace" but that "all we've had in return for our efforts is terrorism, terrorism and more terrorism."
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat was not impressed.
"What Mr. Sharon is doing is saying to the whole world, 'I will win.' But ... he will score victory over what?" Erakat said.
"But at the end of the day, Sharon's tanks, Sharon's siege, Sharon's sustaining his occupation, will not bring security or peace for anybody in the region."
Reacting to Sunday's bombings, a senior Bush administration official said, "We condemn these brutal acts of terrorists. We have made very clear what Chairman Arafat needs to do to stop these terrorist attacks."
In his traditional Easter Sunday address, Pope John Paul II decried the "dramatic spiral of abuse of power and killings" in the Middle East and called for peace in the region. (Full story)
Arafat's compound under siege
In Ramallah, meanwhile, Israelis and Palestinians exchanged gunfire Sunday at Arafat's headquarters, which has been under siege by Israeli forces for three days. Israeli officials vowed to continue with the military operation.
Arafat said he was determined to stay in the compound and did not care if he was killed. He again called on the international community to step in and stop the Israeli incursion into his compound.
"They have done to our people what the Nazis have done to them," Arafat said.
The Palestinian Authority president has been holed up in several rooms with Israeli tanks outside since Friday when Israeli forces stormed the compound as part of what they say is a crackdown on terrorism.
Electricity was restored to the compound Sunday after being cut by Israeli troops two days earlier.
CNN's Michael Holmes was able to enter the compound Sunday when a group of about 40 Palestinian and international peace activists marched past Israeli troops and tanks and walked into the building. Holmes and other reporters went into the compound with the protesters. (Full story)
Israeli forces imposed a curfew in Ramallah shortly before 2 p.m. (6 a.m. EST), threatening to kill anyone on the streets. Israeli forces have set up barricades along all the roads leading up to the compound with tanks, armored personnel carriers and private vehicles.
Holmes reported that by afternoon the situation had calmed around the Arafat compound but tank shells could be heard being fired several miles away.
Emmanuel Nachshon, spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, said Israel's aim was "to protect the citizens of Israel."
"We need to isolate [Arafat] in order to make sure he won't give orders for future terrorists," Nachshon said. The siege, however, has been roundly denounced by the Arab world as an unjust occupation. (Full story)
Zinni mission continues
Zinni attended morning mass at a church in the Old City. A friend of Zinni told CNN the retired general retained "a very faint slice of hope" that he could help end the violence.
Zinni has spent the past two weeks in the region pushing for the implementation of a plan to break the cycle of attack and reprisal.
On Thursday, the Arab League adopted a Saudi-proposed blueprint for peace at a summit in Beirut, Lebanon.
Israeli-Palestinian relations have deteriorated since September 2000, following the collapse of peace talks at Camp David and a visit by Sharon to a holy site in Jerusalem revered by Jews and Palestinians alike.
Relations declined further and the violence mounted with the assassination of Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi in October 2001.
Bush: Cheney-Arafat meeting depends on crackdown
March 23, 2002
WORLD TOP STORIES:
Blix: 'Iraq could do more'
N. Korea warns of nuclear conflict
Serb hardliner refuses to plead
NASA: Flight-deck video found
Caracas tense after bombs
|Back to the top|