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Israeli helicopters fire at Gaza targets

Twin suicide bombers kill 10 in Israel

Ashdod is a well-trafficked and heavily guarded port.

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Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades
Acts of terror

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israeli helicopters fired at several Palestinian locations in Gaza City early Monday, just hours after twin suicide bombs in the Israeli port city of Ashdod killed 10 people and wounded at least 20 more.

The Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas and the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades -- a military offshoot of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement -- claimed joint responsibility for the terror attacks Sunday.

The bombings prompted Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to cancel a meeting with his Palestinian counterpart Ahmed Qorei that had been tentatively scheduled for Tuesday.

Early Monday, several hours after the bombings, Israeli helicopters fired missiles at two buildings in Gaza City that the Israeli military said "were used by the Hamas terrorist organization for the development and manufacturing of weapons, including Qassam rockets and mortar shells."

Four people were wounded, according to Palestinian medical personnel.

Israel accused Hamas of leading "the suicide bombing attacks directed against innocent Israeli civilians, in cooperation with other terrorist organizations."

Qorei's office bureau chief, Hassan Abu Libdeh, said Sharon's decision to cancel Tuesday's meeting was the opposite of what is needed.

The planned talks were an attempt to revive the so-called "road map" to Mideast peace. The plan -- backed by the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia -- calls for steps on both sides aimed at ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and establishing an independent Palestinian state by 2005.

"We are expressing our sorrow at the decision to delay the meeting," Libdeh said. "We think that the best way to respond to this vicious cycle is to speed up the negotiations between the two parties."

Ashdod, about 18 miles (30 kilometers) south of Tel Aviv, is a busy and heavily guarded port for Israeli trade and a popular recreation spot.

The first blast took place near a citrus fruit packing plant inside the port, said police spokesman Gil Kleiman. "Moments later, seconds later, a suicide bomber blows up an office outside the port," he said.

"The Port of Ashdod has a very strict entry and a very strict perimeter security system," he said. "We're trying to see how that one suicide bomber did get in."

Kleiman said it was the first time suicide bombers had succeeded in getting into "a hardened target."

A fax from Hamas and the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades said the bombers came from a refugee camp in central Gaza. Kleiman said he doubted that.

"I tend not to believe what the terrorists say. In the last 3.5 years there's never been a successful suicide bombing coming out of Gaza," Kleiman said.

Both groups are designated terrorist organizations by the U.S. State Department. The military wing of Hamas, Izzedine al Qassam, has admitted responsibility for terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians as well as attacks against the Israeli military.

Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades claimed responsibility for a terror bombing of a Jerusalem bus February 22 that killed eight people.

In the wake of the February 22 bombing, Israel launched at least four operations in Palestinian territory to target people it said were terrorists preparing to take part in future attacks on Israelis. Several Palestinians died, including civilians.

Palestinian Authority calls for cease-fire

The Palestinian Authority issued a statement condemning Sunday's attacks and calling for an "immediate mutual cease-fire" to stop the continuing violence in the region, but Israeli officials said they would not bow to terrorism.

"The world is at war," said Ra'anan Gissin, senior adviser to Sharon. "We're at the forefront of it. ... But we are not driven to our knees."

Palestinian National Council member Hanan Ashrawi said "the Palestinian cause has nothing to do" with terrorist attacks around the world, including last week's bombings in Spain.

"This is limited to the Israeli occupation of Palestine," she said. "[The Israelis are] trying very hard to avoid any mention of the occupation by presenting themselves as victims of terrorism."

Gissin accused the Palestinian Authority of doing "absolutely nothing" to stop terrorist activity originating in its territory. Ashrawi said Israeli policies in "the Palestinian territory" drove the militant groups to respond.

In its statement, the Palestinian Authority called for "an immediate stop" such bombings "that give the Israeli government the excuse to continue its attacks."

"While the Palestinian government condemns the attack on civilians on both sides and the continuation of the ongoing military escalation, it renews its call to the Israeli government to reach an immediate mutual cease-fire so to break the vicious cycle that harms both nations," the statement said.

CNN's Chris Burns contributed to this report.

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