Israel launches missile attack on Arafat base

Sharon 'declares war on terror'
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The Independent Online

Israeli helicopter gunships have fired at least nine missiles at targets in Gaza City today, in retaliation for weekend suicide bombings, which killed 26 people.

The missiles landed near Yasser Arafat's headquarters in the city. A helicopter belonging to the PLO leader was destroyed.

The attacks preceded an uncompromising statement by Ariel Sharon, the Israeli Prime Minister, who bluntly stated tonight that yesterday's terrorrist attacks in Jerusalem were the responsibility of Mr Arafat. .

In what amounted to a declaration of war, he insisted that Israel would use "full force, full determination, all the means used to this day and new means available to us."

"Arafat is responsible for everything that is going on here...anybody who stands up to kill us is in danger himself," Mr Sharon said in a televised address to the nation.

The Palestinians appealed to the US to order Israel to end the strikes. However, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said: "Obviously Israel has the right to defend itself and the president understands that clearly."

Mr Sharon compared Israel's campaign to that waged by America against Osama bin Laden. "Just as the United States acts in its battle against world terror, under the brave leader of President Bush, just as it acts with all its strength, so shall we do ... with all the means at our disposal.

"Arafat is the main impediment to peace and stability in the Middle East. ... Arafat will not succeed in deceiving the government I head. ... Arafat has chosen the path of terror ... to try to make diplomatic gains through murder," he said.

Mr Sharon later convened a meeting of the full Israeili government, which Israel Radio, citing Sharon aides, said was expected to approve harsh retaliation, but stop short of crushing Arafat's Palestinian Authority.

An explosion was also reported in Bethlehem but this was apparently caused by a Palestinina militant preparing a bomb which exploded prematurely.