Israel strikes Arafat HQ

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The Independent Online

Israeli helicopters destroyed Yasser Arafat's seaside office in Gaza City today, after a Palestinian suicide bomber and gunmen killed 11 Israelis in two attacks.

A flurry of peace moves in Western and Arab capitals failed to slow the carnage, which yesterday left 14 Israelis and six Palestinians dead.

In Gaza, Israeli attack helicopters and gunboats fired at least 25 missiles at Arafat's office, collapsing the building in a pile of rubble, fire and smoke. The building, which housed the main studios of Palestinian TV, was evacuated earlier, witnesses said.

Arafat himself has been confined to his West Bank headquarters in Ramallah for three months by Israeli forces.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon called his senior ministers together for consultations before the regular weekly Cabinet session Sunday morning, Israel TV reported. Several ministers called for stiff action.

Interior Minister Eli Yishai, inspecting the remains of the Moment cafe near downtown Jerusalem as volunteers gathered the shattered fragments of human bodies for Jewish burial, called for a nonstop war against the Palestinians.

"We must keep up the attacks by land, sea and air until they ask for a cease-fire," he told Israel TV. "We must not stop the attacks of the closures until they reach the situation that the civilians there ask their leaders to draw the right conclusions."

In contrast, shortly before the Jerusalem blast about 50 meters (yards) away, dovish Israeli demonstrators protested in front of Sharon's residence, demanding an end to Israeli attacks and a unilateral pullout from the West Bank and Gaza.

In the Jerusalem bombing, the assailant walked into the Moment cafe, frequented by young Israelis, and detonated explosives, said Jerusalem Police Chief Mickey Levy.

"There was a huge explosion, simply atomic," said one of the cafe's patrons, who gave only his first name, Eran. "There was smoke everywhere and an acrid smell of gunpowder. People were screaming. I've never seen anything like it in my life."

In competing claims, the militant Islamic group Hamas and the Al Aqsa Brigades, a militia linked to Arafat's Fatah movement, both said they were responsible for the bombing. Both groups have carried out suicide bombings previously, and Hamas called it "the beginning of retaliatory activities for Sharon's war on the (Palestinian) refugee camps."

In addition to the 11 people killed, about 50 were injured, Jerusalem police said.

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