Israeli Cabinet minister says attack 'defensive'
Palestinians predict additional Israeli strikes
JERUSALEM (CNN) -- An Israeli Cabinet minister said his nation's rocket attacks on Palestinian targets Wednesday were "defensive," while a Palestinian official predicted the fighting would escalate.
One target in the West Bank town of Ramallah and four in Gaza were hit. The rocket strikes killed at least one Palestinian and wounded at least six.
The victims, according to the Palestine Red Crescent Society, were all members of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat's elite personal bodyguard unit, Force 17.
Arafat's seaside home in Gaza was also attacked and damaged, although the extent of the damage was not yet known, according to Chief Palestinian Negotiator Saeb Erakat. Arafat was in Amman, Jordan for an Arab summit at the time of the attack.
The attacks followed two days of suicide bombings and sniper attacks targeting Israelis that left two Palestinian attackers and three Israelis dead.
"We had been forced to do something defensive," Israeli Cabinet Minister Meir Sheetrit told CNN. "Israel has to use its self-defense point of view that we have to take care of the security of the people of Israel."
Erakat told CNN he feared the fighting will worsen.
"I believe what happened tonight is part of a plan, is part of what we are going to see is an escalation hitting towns and hitting the radio station," Erakat said.
"I don't know what they are going to hit tomorrow ... We have all sorts of political punishments and pressure now. This situation will lead to more explosions, more unfortunate dead people on both sides, Israelis and Palestinians," he said. More on the Palestinian reaction.
A suicide bombing earlier Wednesday killed two Israeli students and the attacker.
Four other students were injured in the blast, which went off about 7:30 a.m. (0530 GMT) at a gas station known as the "Peace Rendezvous" near the village of Sdeh Hemet -- about a half-mile from the so-called "green line" border between Israel and the West Bank.
Several teen-age students were waiting at the station for an armored bus to carry them to their seminary inside the West Bank.
Hamas claims responsibility
In a telephone call to Reuter News Agency, the military wing of the militant Palestinian group Hamas claimed responsibility for the blast -- as well as the second of two blasts in Jerusalem on Tuesday -- and warned more were to come.
Five people were injured in the first blast on Tuesday, a car bomb set off near a busy shopping center as morning rush hour got under way. The second explosion killed one -- a suspected suicide bomber -- and injured at least 27 when it went off alongside a bus in the Jewish French Hill neighborhood.
A previously unknown group said it was responsible for Tuesday's initial blast, The Associated Press reported. The news agency said that it had received a leaflet claiming responsibility from a Palestinian group calling itself the "Popular Army Front."
Earlier Wednesday, Israeli authorities found a bomb in the coastal city of Netanya and carried out a controlled detonation. Later, security forces carried out a controlled explosion of a bomb in Petah Tikva, near Tel Aviv.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon convened his Security Cabinet for a Wednesday afternoon meeting to discuss a response. Israel's new leader, who trounced incumbent Prime Minister Ehud Barak in elections in February, had appeared reluctant to respond to the violence while the Arab League summit was in session in Amman, Jordan -- but the summit ended not long after the Wednesday morning bombing.
The Israeli attacks began as Sharon's cabinet meeting ended.
Before the rocket attacks, senior Sharon aide Raanan Gissin reiterated the Israeli leader's policy of no tolerance for attacks on Israelis. Gissin said those responsible "will pay the full price."
Blast kills 9-year-old
While the Israelis and Palestinians have been at odds since Israel's birth more than 50 years ago, the last six months have seen a bitter escalation of violence in the wake of stumbling peace talks.
Not all of the violence has been the result of direct conflict. Hospital officials in Gaza said that a 9-year-old boy in Rafah was killed on Wednesday by an exploding tank shell. The boy and three friends, who were critically injured, had been playing with the shell when it went off.
Some Palestinian security officials, however, said the explosion had been the result of a booby trap.
The Israel Defense Forces said that no tank shells had been fired in the vicinity of Rafah, and that no booby traps were in place.
Since September 28, about 475 people have been killed in the violence, nearly 400 of them Palestinians.
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