Suicide bombers target school buses

Children escape in Gaza Strip as Israeli soldiers shoot Palestinians in Nablus and Hebron

Palestinian suicide bombers struck twice early yesterday in the Gaza Strip, killing themselves but not destroying their targets, which in both cases appear to have been buses taking children to school from two Jewish settlements.

The attacks came as sporadic violence erupted in the West Bank in which two Palestinians were killed. Although ill-organised, the bombs in Gaza show that the attack on a cafe in Tel Aviv 10 days ago was not carried out by a rogue cell but is part of a concerted campaign.

Both bombers blew themselves up about 7am, the first, wearing military uniform, near Netzarim settlement, south of Gaza city. The second bomb was at Kfar Darom, a couple of miles away, and was also apparently directed at a school bus. The Palestinian Authority contested the Israeli account of the second attack and said an Israeli had thrown a grenade. The only casualties, other than the bombers, were five Palestinians hit by shrapnel.

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, said: "The Palestinian Authority has not yet made the necessary efforts against terror." He repeated his claim that they had received a "green light" from Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, to carry out attacks against Israelis. Jewish settlers in Gaza, of whom there are about 5,000, demanded that the Israeli army move to reoccupy the autonomous Palestinian enclaves.

Hamas, the main Palestinian Islamic movement, denied making any of the suicide attacks. But Hamas leaders in Gaza are divided into three factions.

The first, led by Sheikh Imad al-Faluji, stood in the election for the Palestinian Legislative Council last year and has joined Mr Arafat. A second faction, led by Said Abu Massameh and Mahmoud Zahar, has agreed with the Palestinian leader not to make attacks on Israel. A third group, led by Ibrahim Makadmeh, seems to be the most likely to be supporting the most recent bombings. Nobody knows how far this fragmentation is a tactical ploy by Hamas to keep its leaders out of Palestinian Authority jails.

Haitham Mansour, a policeman in Nablus, was shot dead by Israeli soldiers during a demonstration which Palestinians said he was helping to control. Another man, Kamel Zaro, was killed at a checkpoint near Hebron, allegedly when he tried to steal a car, was seen by soldiers and shot as he ran away.

In contrast to September, when 61 Palestinians and 15 Israelis were killed, Israeli soldiers hitherto seldom used live rounds during the past two weeks of riots. The deaths yesterday may mean this restraint is lessening.

If there is an all-out confrontation between Palestinian security and the Israeli army, Israel has implied it will use heavy weapons such as tanks.

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