Israeli planes hit Gaza police compound

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The Independent Online

Israel resumed its military strikes against Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority on Friday, bombing a Palestinian police compound in Gaza after Palestinians fired at eight mortar shells at Jewish settlements. At least 20 people were injured, Palestinians said.

The pre­dawn F­16 fighter plane strike at a Palestinian security installation south of Gaza City ended a two­day lull in military action that Israel said had been meant to give Arafat a chance to act against militants responsible for suicide bombings in Israel.

After the raid, Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben­Eliezer said Arafat "needs to do more." He told Army Radio, "We are facing a constant threat of terrorists trying to get into Israel."

The Israeli army said in a statement that the air strike targeted the "Palestinian security apparatus that supports and aids terrorist operations." Later, the army released another statement, claiming that the facility was a mortar shell factory.

Arafat said his forces have arrested 180 militants since suicide bombers blew themselves up in Jerusalem and Haifa on Sunday, killing 25. But Israel accuses him of acting in bad faith, charging that those apprehended are low­level figures, not the real planners of attacks.

Also on Friday, three army tanks and an armored personnel carrier entered the southern Gaza Strip town of Abassan, a witness said. Israeli soldiers searched 10 houses and arrested a number of people, leaving after about 90 minutes.

The Israeli military said its forces arrested two terrorist suspects near Jenin in the West Bank and another in Gaza.

Despite the violence, contacts were resuming between the two sides. U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni arranged a meeting of Palestinian and Israeli security commanders for Friday morning, Palestinians said.

The Gaza air strike came shortly after 3 a.m., a time when many Muslims rise for their pre­dawn meal during the current holy month of Ramadan.

At Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, doctors were treating at least 20 people injured in the air strike on the police compound. They included 18 police and two civilians ­ a man and his son who were on their way to a morning prayer service.

Fire erupted after the F­16s dropped bombs on two buildings in a complex that was the headquarters for the Palestinian civil police in Gaza City. Dust and black smoke filled the sky ,and ambulances rushed toward the building.

Two buildings were destroyed. One was the sleeping quarters for police and other security workers, evacuated in time because security officials expected an Israeli attack. The other housed office, including a women's police division.

"I was watching television inside the security room when I heard a huge explosion and the land shaking under my feet," said policeman Mohammed Gomaes, 22, who escaped moments before bombs destroyed the office where he was sitting.

"The glass in the window next to me covered my head," he said. "I was lucky this time."

"There is no provocation for this crime," Gomaes said. "We are a civil police force, and our duty is to protect our society as well as to fulfill the Palestinian leadership commitment" to arrest terrorists.

Windows were broken in homes as far as 200 metres away from the police compound.