Israeli attack kills 7 in Gaza, Palestinian officials say
Hamas: Every Israeli is now a target
GAZA CITY (CNN) -- An Israeli helicopter gunship fired at a car in Gaza City Thursday, killing seven Palestinians, Palestinian medical officials said. It was the third Israeli helicopter attack in Gaza in 24 hours.
At least 25 people were wounded, the medical sources said, adding that the streets of the neighborhood were crowded with people who had been attending funerals for those killed in attacks on Hamas militants Wednesday.
The apparent target of Thursday's strike was Yasser Taha, a senior member of Hamas, a Palestinian militant group that has rejected calls for a cease-fire.
Taha was killed along with his wife and 3-year-old daughter when a missile hit their car, the medical officials said.
Taha had been wanted by Israel for months. Israeli forces bulldozed his house in Gaza several months ago. They also arrested his father and brother.
Hamas spokesman Mahmoud Al-Zahar called the strike a crime and warned that every Israeli is now a target.
A statement from the Israel Defense Forces said Taha was "one of the senior commanders of the military wing of Hamas in Gaza" and "was involved actively and intensively in murderous attacks, smuggling of weapons and directing vicious terrorists cells."
The statement adds, "During the operation, mistakenly, other members of his family were killed. IDF regrets this and is investigating the circumstances of the event."
In the West Bank town of Jenin Thursday, two Islamic Jihad militants were killed after they opened fire on Israeli troops who returned fire, Israeli military sources said. The soldiers had gone to arrest a senior "wanted" militant within the organization, and exchanged fire with the militant and one of his assistants, killing both, the sources said.
Earlier Thursday, a 35-year-old Israeli man was shot and killed in the village of Yabed near Jenin, Israeli ambulance service officials said. Israeli authorities believe Palestinian gunmen were behind the attack.
Hamas is our al Qaeda
Thursday's attack in Gaza came a day after a suicide bomber killed 17 people in Jerusalem. Hamas' militant wing Izzedine al Qassam claimed responsibility for the attack.
The 17th bombing victim, a 75-year-old Israeli woman, died of her wounds on Thursday, according to hospital officials. (More on bombing)
At a Cabinet meeting Thursday, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Israel would not abandon its policy of targeting militant leaders, explaining that it was not a condition of last week's Israeli-Palestinian summit in Jordan to launch the so-called road map to Mideast peace, according to Israeli Army Radio and Israeli sources.
The Israeli government turned over intelligence information to the White House about Hamas, after U.S. President George W. Bush issued some rare criticism of Israel Tuesday for its attempted assassination of Abdel Aziz Rantissi, one of Hamas' most visible figures.
"Hamas is our al Qaeda, it is our local al Qaeda," said one senior Israeli official. "Yes, it's an all-out war."
Condoleezza Rice, Bush's national security adviser, spoke by telephone Thursday with Sharon, senior U.S. State Department and Israeli officials said.
Rice conveyed Bush's condolences on Wednesday's suicide bus bombing and expressed the belief that Israel has a right to defend itself against terrorism, the officials said.
This is the highest level contact between the U.S. and Israeli governments since the latest cycle of violence began.
In addition, Secretary of State Colin Powell spoke Thursday to Sharon and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, a senior State Department official said.
Powell also talked to Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher and Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, according to State Department spokesman Richard Boucher.
'Chick who hasn't grown his feathers'
In a statement faxed to news agencies in Jerusalem, Hamas warned that the suicide bombing was just the beginning and said international visitors should leave Israel to protect themselves.
"The Jerusalem attack is the beginning of a new series of revenge attacks ... in which we will target every Zionist occupying our land," the Hamas statement said. "We call on international citizens to leave the Zionist entity immediately to preserve their lives."
Both Hamas and Islamic Jihad are listed by the U.S. State Department as terrorist organizations. Both have rejected calls for a cease-fire.
Palestinian sources said nine people, including five Hamas militants, were killed and 40 wounded in two Israeli attacks Wednesday. (More on Gaza attack)
Those attacks followed the bus bombing, but Israeli military sources said the strikes were not in retaliation for the bombing but were planned in advance against Hamas leaders whom Israel accused of planning and carrying out terror attacks.
In the wake of the bombing, Sharon vowed Israel would continue to pursue "murderous terrorist organizations" that "initiate, fund and send out terrorists." But he also said Israel is committed to moving forward with the road map, according to Israeli sources and Israeli Army Radio.
At Thursday's Cabinet meeting, Sharon characterized Palestinian leaders as "crybabies" and said Abbas was "like a chick who hasn't grown his feathers," according to Israeli Army Radio and Israeli sources.
Abbas -- who pledged to crack down on terror groups as prime minister -- has been trying to negotiate a cease-fire with Hamas and other radical groups.
Shalom said Thursday, "This government will not march or walk in two tracks in the same time in parallel. I mean terror by day and negotiation by night. If these terrorist contacts will continue, I think that we won't be able to continue at the same time with the peace process."
Abbas and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat on Wednesday condemned the Jerusalem bombing and the Israeli attacks in Gaza. "Ending this deterioration requires the commitment of all parties to end violence and cease fire and begin serious implementation of the road map," Abbas said. His spokesman said Abbas was referring to all Israelis and all Palestinians -- including Hamas -- in that call.
Arafat called for "an immediate cessation of all forms of operations and shootings. The evil, vicious circle of military operation from all parties must stop immediately."
CNN Correspondents Kelly Wallace, Mike Hanna and Jerrold Kessel, John King and Producer Talal Abu Rahma contributed to this report.