11 killed in Israeli incursion
GAZA CITY (CNN - 6 March) --Eleven Palestinians have been reported killed and nearly 100 injured during an Israeli operation near the Jabaliya refugee camp.
The latest fatalities come less than a day after a suicide bombing killed 15 Israelis in the northern Israeli port city of Haifa.
In the Jabaliya operation, the Israel Defense Forces said its soldiers fired three tank shells, two aimed at a Palestinian gunman who was killed, and the other toward a group of armed Palestinians preparing to launch a rocket-propelled grenade at the forces.
The IDF said two of its soldiers were lightly injured and the forces have left the area. They did not list any Palestinian deaths.
But Palestinian hospital officials said 11 people were killed in Jabaliya.
Other reports said the Israeli forces fired a tank shell into a crowd of unarmed Palestinians. Some of the reports said the Palestinians had gathered to inspect the damage left behind by the Israeli forces, while others said they were trying to put out a fire.
During the incursion near Jabaliya, the IDF said its forces demolished the house of a senior Hamas activist, who was arrested by the forces, as well as an adjacent weapons workshop.
The Israeli forces encountered fierce resistance from armed Palestinians, both Palestinian and Israeli sources said.
According to the Israel Defense Forces, "massive fire was opened on the soldiers," who were also targeted by hand grenades, anti-tank rockets and more than 10 explosive devices.
No one has claimed responsibility for Wednesday's suicide bombing that gutted a suburban bus in Haifa, killing at least 15 Israelis and badly wounding at least 40 others.
The bus was carrying many high school and college students.
Among the dead were a 13-year-old boy and girl, and two Israeli soldiers, authorities said. Three of the 15 who died perished en route to the hospital.
Israeli police said the identification badge of the suicide bomber was found amid the wreckage, with a letter attached to it praising the September 11 attacks against the United States.
The bomber, who also died in the blast, was identified as Mahmoud Alqasma of Hebron.
A senior Israeli military official said the bomb contained 15 kilograms of explosives and was "well-prepared" so that it would be "very effective." The bomb was believed to be an explosives belt, this official said.
The Israel Defense Forces said the bomber's father and two brothers were arrested late Wednesday at their Hebron home on suspicion of involvement in the attack.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon convened a security cabinet meeting late in the day to decide what further steps would be taken against the Palestinian terror infrastructure.
Soon afterward, the Gaza operation got under way.
Wednesday's bus bombing was the first terrorist attack inside Israel in two months. The last such attack was January 5, when at least 23 people were killed and more than 100 wounded in a double-suicide bombing in Tel Aviv.
A spokesman for Hamas lauded the attack.
"Regardless who is behind this, ... this is serving the Palestinian goal," Mahmoud A-Zahar said. "This raises the spiritual level of every Arab, every Muslim, every Palestinian. This is a clear message for the government that Israeli crimes, Israeli aggression will be answered by a well-effective resistance from the Palestinian side."
David Baker, an official in Sharon's office, called the bombing "yet another Palestinian bloodletting of innocent Israeli civilians."
"Israel will not tolerate this terror, and will continue to take the necessary steps to eradicate it," he told the Israel daily Haaretz.
Israeli forces have conducted an extensive campaign in Palestinian territories to root out terrorists, Israeli officials say. Since early January, Israeli authorities claim to have prevented about 50 suicide bombings by catching would-be bombers.
Palestinian Minister of Information Yasser Abed Rabbo said the Israeli campaign has taken the lives of 154 Palestinian civilians since the last suicide bombing.
"We condemn all attacks against civilians including today's attack in Haifa," he said. "The attack will only serve to distract attention from the more than 150 Palestinian civilians killed by Israel over the last two months."
Israeli officials defended their efforts.
"The sort of deceptive lull the past two months of the attacks was mainly because of the sustained effort on our part to stop terrorist activity and to prevent suicide and homicide bombings from coming out of the territories or out of Gaza," said Israeli government spokesman Ra'anan Gissin.
Palestinian Authority spokesman Saeb Erakat said Palestinian officials "reject the finger pointing of the Israeli government at the Palestinian Authority."
"They urge President Bush once again to focus on helping Palestinian and Israelis break this vicious cycle of violence by introducing the road map immediately," he said.
Ari Fleischer, Bush's spokesman, said "the president condemns in the strongest terms today's attack on innocent in Israel."
"The president stands strongly with the people of Israel in fighting terrorism," he said. "His message to terrorists is their efforts will not be successful. We will continue to pursue the path of peace in the Middle East."
-- Jerusalem Bureau Chief Mike Hanna and Correspondents Jerrold Kessel and Kelly Wallace contributed to this report