Israel seals off West Bank and Gaza Strip

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The Independent Online
ISRAEL yesterday ordered the West Bank and Gaza Strip sealed off 'indefinitely' after the Tel Aviv bus bombing. The closure will affect tens of thousands of Palestinians who work in Israel, and the Palestinian leadership said the measure amounted to 'economic and social war'.

Without giving details, the Israeli cabinet also approved special 'new means' for the security forces in the war against Islamic militants, and backed an 'international campaign' to cut off overseas donations to Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement.

Despite the fierce reactions from the Palestine Liberation Organisation, however, the measures announced yesterday showed relative restraint, falling far short of all-out retaliation, which many predicted could have involved Israeli raids inside the Palestinian-ruled enclaves. A poll yesterday showed 71 per cent of Israelis would support raids to 'liquidate' Hamas.

In the cabinet statement there was no mention of a halt in the autonomy negotiations, and, in marked contrast to his condemnation of Mr Arafat after last week's kidnapping, Mr Rabin went out of his way yesterday to absolve the PLO chairman from responsibility for the attack, suggesting instead that the bombing was orchestrated by an Islamic leadership outside the occupied territories.

As Israel buried its dead yesterday, Hamas released a video tape of the man it said was the suicide bomber who boarded the No 5 bus in Dizengoff Street, Tel Aviv, on Wednesday, blasting himself and 21 Israelis to death.

On the tape, Saleh Abdel Rahim al-Souwi, aged 27, held an Israeli-made Galil assault rifle and said his actions would also avenge the killing of his brother during the intifada, the uprising against Israeli occupation. A survivor of the blast said al-Souwi was not the bomber whom she saw at the front of the bus.

JERUSALEM - Rockets fired from Lebanon hit northern Israel last night in apparent retaliation for Israeli army and allied militia shelling in south Lebanon on Wednesday in which seven people were reported killed, Reuter reports. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

Hamas celebrates, page 14