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EXPLOSION levels Fatah office; Arafat calls for G8 to pressure Israel

Updated:

JERUSALEM (AP) _ A day after a deadly explosion leveled a West Bank office of Yasser Arafat's Fatah party, the Palestinian leader warned Saturday of rising violence and appealed to the world's industrial powers to help instill calm.

In Hebron, about 5,000 people joined a funeral procession for the Fatah military wing activist killed in the Friday night explosion. Gunmen fired in the air and chanted calls for revenge as the body of Rajai Abu Rajab was carried through the streets.

Arafat did not directly comment on the Hebron blast, which Palestinians say was an Israeli assassination attempt and Israelis say was a Palestinian bomb that prematurely exploded. But he said Hebron is just one of many cities where violence is escalating to dangerous levels, noting Bethlehem, where Israeli troop reinforcements are close by.

``It's an Israeli attempt to escalate the situation because they think this escalation will positively effect them in the G-8,'' Arafat said, referring to the Group of Eight meeting in Italy where leaders of the world's most powerful industrial nations are gathered.

The G-8 foreign ministers have called for third-party monitors of a month-old cease fire that never took root, but have said both sides must agree to the observers. Israel vehemently opposes the idea of outside monitors, which Palestinians long have sought.

``What is important is to appeal to the G-8 now to have decisions be obligatory for the Israeli side to stop this Israeli aggression,'' Arafat said after a meeting in his Gaza headquarters with Russian envoy Andrei Vdovin.

Foreign ministers for the Group of Eight world industrial powers, meeting in Italy, called Thursday for observers to be sent to the region in an effort to end nearly 10 months of violence, but said only with the agreement of both sides.

Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer on Friday gave the first indication Israel may bend on monitors, telling Israeli television that ``if something will be imposed on us, hopefully this will not happen ... I will accept the presence of the CIA here.''

Ben-Eliezer's spokesman, Yarden Vatikai, said there hasn't been discussion of what sort of monitoring role the CIA could play if its presence was enlarged because Israel opposes such an option. Now, the CIA coordinates Israeli-Palestinian security meetings designed to restore security cooperation and trust between the parties.

Raanan Gissin, an aide to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said Ben-Eliezer had used ``a poor choice of words,'' and that Israel opposes any observers.

Soon after the Hebron explosion Friday night, heavy gunfire broke out in a valley between the Palestinian village of Beit Jalla and the Israeli neighborhood of Gilo, built on disputed land on the outskirts of Jerusalem. There were no reports of injuries.

Israeli military sources described the explosion that killed Abu Rajab and injured eight people as a ``work accident'' _ a term used when bombs being prepared explode prematurely. Palestinian security officials claimed Israel fired missiles at the building in an assassination, an accusation Israel flatly denied.

Marwan Barghouti, head of Fatah's Tanzim military wing in the West Bank, said Israel had fired on the building in ``a dangerous escalation that is going to lead to a broad and angry Palestinian reaction.''

Gissin rejected any Israeli role, saying those claiming otherwise intend ``just to escalate an already very tense situation.''

At a funeral Saturday in the West Bank town of Ramallah, a few hundred people mourned Dia Tawil, a Hamas bomber who injured two dozen Israelis by blowing himself up March 27 near an Israeli bus in Jerusalem. Israeli authorities released his remains Friday.

Jamal Tawil, Dia's uncle and the Hamas spokesman in the town, said Israeli cities including Tel Aviv and Beersheeva should be ``open for our fighters'' to carry out attacks. He vowed more suicide bombers would ``respond for all the Israeli escalation.''

On Friday night in Ramallah, Palestinian security and intelligence officials said plainclothes Israeli operatives abducted Ahmed Taha, a 35-year-old activist in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a splinter Palestinian faction that opposes peacemaking with Israel. The Israeli army refused to comment.

Friday's violence came amid worries about Palestinian retaliation after the killings of three Palestinians, including a 3-month-old baby, the night before in slayings claimed by an extremist Jewish group calling itself the Committee for Road Safety.

The Israeli government condemned the shootings, while authorities said the attack could be a sign Jewish extremist groups are re-emerging.

``In recent months, it appears that a cell is organizing that is responsible for such shooting attacks,'' said Israeli police spokesman Rafi Yaffe. ``We are making great, intense efforts to catch them.''
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