Israel rockets smash Fatah targets

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The Independent Online

Israeli helicopters rocketed four targets associated with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement before dawn today, a day after a bloody Palestinian "independence day" took eight Palestinian lives.

Israeli helicopters rocketed four targets associated with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement before dawn today, a day after a bloody Palestinian "independence day" took eight Palestinian lives.

A German doctor living in a Palestinian city was killed by Israeli fire during one of the clashes between the Israelis and Palestinians.

The army said it hit Fatah headquarters in the West Bank towns of Salfit, Tulkarm and Hebron, as well as an armory in Jericho. Palestinian security officials confirmed the attack in Salfit, and said two men living in neighboring houses were injured - one seriously.

The helicopter attacks - described by the army as "preemptive" - were apparently Prime Minister Ehud Barak's promised retaliation for drive-by shootings in the West Bank and Gaza on Monday that killed four Israelis, two civilians and two soldiers.

The German doctor, Harry Fischer, was killed early Thursday when a rocket struck his home in the West Bank town of Bet Jalla, eye-witnesses said. Fighting broke out Wednesday night when Palestinians opened fire on the nearby Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo, setting fire to an apartment, but causing no casualties.

Israeli troops responded with machine gun fire heavier than ever before in this sector since the fighting began six weeks ago. Israeli helicopters fired missiles and ground troops fired rockets. Dr. Fischer is married to a Palestinian woman.

Eight residents of Bet Jalla were wounded by the Israeli fire, the director of Bet Jalla hospital, Dr. Peter Qumari said.

Wednesday was the 12th anniversary of a symbolic declaration of independence made by Arafat while he was in exile. All over the West Bank and Gaza, Palestinians marched to mark the day, and many of the processions turned into clashes with Israeli forces. As young Palestinians threw rocks and firebombs at Israeli forces, others aimed rifle fire at the Israelis.

Funeral processions Thursday could well follow the same pattern, ending in clashes with Israeli forces and more casualties. Eight Palestinians were killed Wednesday, and another died of injuries received earlier. Since the fighting erupted Sept. 28, 219 people have been killed, the vast majority young Palestinians.

Despite the highest one-day toll since Oct. 20, Israeli and Palestinian leaders talked tentatively about peace, though the prospect seemed far off as the bullets flew in all directions.

In a broadcast eulogy to Leah Rabin, widow of slain Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat said he continues to be "fully committed" to making peace.

U.S. Middle East envoy Dennis Ross met late Wednesday with Barak, the prime minister's office said. Ross attended Rabin's funeral, together with First Lady and Senator-elect Hillary Clinton. Barak aide Gilead Sher told Israel television that first the violence must be stopped, and then "we can see how and in what format we can resume the negotiations."

Ross scheduled a meeting Thursday with Arafat.

Barak called his Cabinet into special session after he returned from the United States, cutting short a visit there to deal with the violence. No new measures were announced.

Gilo residents were demonstrating to protest the almost daily salvoes when Palestinians opened fire again. As former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jerusalem mayor Ehud Olmert watched from the police command post, Israeli tanks fired shells at the buildings used by Palestinians as firing positions.

In the West Bank, some Israelis have left settlements because of the violence, and others are preparing to move, said Ayelet Tayeb, who lives in Hermesh, near the West Bank city of Nablus. She said settlers' cars come under daily rock attacks by Palestinians. A teacher from a nearby settlement was killed in a drive-by shooting Monday.

Palestinian leaders have said openly that they are targeting settlers, maintaining that the settlements were built illegally on Palestinian land.

"We can't live like this," Tayeb told The Associated Press by telephone, preparing to move to Israel proper with her husband and two sons, aged 7 and 4. She said about a dozen of the 65 families at Hermesh have left already, and others would like to move but can't afford to, since no one would buy their houses.

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