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Sharon resists pressure to act against Arafat

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, right, with Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before Sunday's Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, right, with Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before Sunday's Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem.

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CNN's Mike Hanna says Israeli troops blew up several Palestinian homes in Hebron, West Bank, after the killings of 12 soldiers and police (November 17)
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CNN's Matthew Chance reports Israeli security forces have been arresting Palestinians in Hebron over the deadly attack on 12 Israelis (November 16)
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Palestinian gunmen open fire on a group of Jews in the West Bank city of Hebron. (November 15)
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JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon resisted right-wing pressure Sunday to take direct action against Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in the wake of Friday's deadly ambush on a group of Israelis in Hebron.

Israeli troops have occupied most of the West Bank town, occupied by Israel after the 1967 war and later divided between Israelis and Palestinians by a 1997 agreement. Shortly after the attack, which killed 12 and wounded 16, Israeli forces arrested 41 Palestinians for questioning. Early Sunday the Israelis demolished two houses they said belonged to terrorists.

The Cabinet made no decisions regarding Israel's next move, although newly appointed Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu argued to declare null and void all agreements regarding the division of towns in the West Bank and Gaza.

Most of the victims in Friday's ambush were Israeli police and soldiers who rushed to the scene when the shooting started. Palestinian gunmen opened fire on Israeli Jews returning from a Friday service at the Tomb of the Patriarchs, a site holy to Jews and Muslims, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

Three of the gunmen were killed, according to the IDF.

Palestinian Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the attack, dubbed the "Sabbath massacre" by the Israelis. Palestinian Islamic Jihad is a militant group dedicated to the creation of an Islamic Palestinian state and the destruction of Israel. It is classified by the U.S. State Department as a terrorist organization.

Shortly after the attack, Israeli forces reoccupied all of Hebron, after pulling out two weeks earlier, and arrested 41 Palestinians for questioning regarding the attack.

Two Israeli helicopters Sunday launched cannon fire and at least one rocket at targets in the village of Tal el Hawa, just south of Gaza City, Palestinian sources said.

The sources said one target was apparently the headquarters of the Palestinian Preventive Security Services, a security agency that is an arm of the Palestinian Authority.

The other target, the sources said, was the home of two brothers who were arrested two days ago in a lightning raid into Gaza by Israeli forces. The brothers, from the Makdad family, are on Israel's list of wanted militants. The helicopters Sunday destroyed the home.

Israeli forces guard a suspected Palestinian militant arrested Saturday in Hebron, following Friday's attack.
Israeli forces guard a suspected Palestinian militant arrested Saturday in Hebron, following Friday's attack.

The Israeli military confirmed the attacks but would not identify the targets. The military also said its troops were searching for Palestinian militants in the village.

At the same time, Palestinian sources said a column of about 30 Israeli tanks and armored personnel carriers was moving from the town of Netzarima, a Jewish settlement in Gaza, toward Gaza City. So far there are no reports of fighting.

Earlier, in a pre-dawn operation, Israeli forces demolished two houses believed to belong to suspected terrorists, including a member of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad connected to Friday's ambush, according to the IDF.

Israeli forces also occupied the West Bank city of Nablus, destroying two homes, the IDF said.

Sharon visited Hebron on Sunday and said Israeli forces should ensure the continuity between the Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba on the city's outskirts and the Jewish section of Hebron.

Sharon adviser Ra'anan Gissin clarified that the government has no intention of reoccupying Palestinian areas of Hebron for settlement purposes. He said the Israeli military's occupation of the road between the two Jewish areas -- where Friday's attack happened -- as well as its control over all Palestinian areas of Hebron were for security purposes.

However, a group of settlers' tents erected after Friday's attack on the road between the two Jewish areas has prompted concern from Palestinian officials that Israelis are planning to build a settlement outpost.

"The Israeli government is adding fuel to the fire by considering the establishment of a new settlement enclave in the middle of the city of Hebron," chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said.

"This will have serious negative repercussions. We call upon the quartet [ the United States, European Union, Russia and United Nations] to exert every possible effort in order to introduce the road map for peace."

IDF: Militants fired from hill

After the group of Israelis left the Friday evening service, militants opened fire from atop a hill in a Palestinian-controlled section of Hebron, the IDF said. The victims were in an Israeli-controlled section of the city, divided under a 1997 agreement.

A man carries a stretcher used to evacuate those injured in an attack that killed 12 Israelis on Friday.
A man carries a stretcher used to evacuate those injured in an attack that killed 12 Israelis on Friday.

As Israeli soldiers rushed to help the victims, the gunmen attacked again, killing several of the rescuers, including the region's highest ranking military official.

Abdallah Shalah, head of Islamic Jihad's operations in Syria, said Friday's attack was revenge for Israel's killing a week ago of Iyad Sawalcha, believed by the Israelis to be responsible for orchestrating attacks that left dozens of Israelis dead and many more injured. Israeli forces said they shot and killed Sawalcha after he opened fire on them as they attempted to arrest him.

About 450 Jewish settlers live in Hebron, surrounded by 130,000 Palestinians, and relations between the communities are among the most violent in the West Bank.

Danny Ayalon, Israel's ambassador to the United States, condemned the attack and insisted that Arafat and Palestinian officials "do encourage it, they do finance it."

Arafat and some other Palestinian leaders have publicly condemned the killing of civilians. There was no comment from them after the Hebron attack.

Strike against Gaza workshop

Israeli helicopter gunships launched a rocket attack early Sunday on a metal workshop that, according to the Israel Defense Forces, is used to make weapons in the Gaza town of Khan Yunis.

The attack happened about 1:10 a.m., and there were no casualties, Palestinian sources said. The IDF said weapons made in the workshop are used in terror attacks against Israeli civilians and soldiers.

In addition, an Israeli Apache helicopter struck a workshop in central Gaza City early Saturday, also thought to be used to construct weapons used in terror attacks, according to the IDF.

The helicopter dropped four missiles on the workshop, turning it into a ball of fire, according to witnesses.

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