(RAMALLAH, West Bank) - Israel stepped up reprisals Monday for Palestinian attacks, and Palestinians said 16 people were killed by Israeli fire, including the wife and three children of an Islamic militant leader and a doctor whose ambulance was hit during rescue efforts.
Israel's security Cabinet decided late Sunday to intensify military strikes after 22 Israelis were killed in four weekend attacks by Palestinian militants. Israeli troops raided two Palestinian refugee camps Monday.
Monday's deadliest incident took place in the West Bank town of Ramallah where a pickup truck belonging to an Islamic militant leader, Hussein Abu Kweik, was hit by what Palestinian security officials said were two tank shells fired by troops stationed at a nearby Jewish settlement. A second car was hit by shrapnel.
Abu Kweik's wife had picked up their three children, ages 8, 14 and 17, from school and was driving in a well-to-do neighborhood when the vehicle was hit and all four passengers were killed. Two children, ages 4 and 16, were killed in the second car.
Abu Kweik vowed revenge. ``I swear to God they (the Israelis) will pay a very high price for this crime,'' he said. ``We will continue our resistance until it's the end of the last (Israeli) soldier on our lands.''
The Israeli military said it was investigating. ``If it turns out that the Israeli Defense Forces killed civilians, we will not hesitate to apologize,'' said Capt. Sharon Feingold of the army spokesman's office.
In 17 months of fighting, Israel has killed dozens of suspected Palestinian militants in targeted attacks, but bystanders have also been killed. Abu Kweik, a leader of the Hamas group, was not in the pickup when it was hit Monday. Hamas officials said Abu Kweik belonged to Hamas' political wing, and was not involved in attacks on Israelis.
In a raid of the Jenin refugee camp, Israeli troops manning tanks and helicopters fired machine guns toward Palestinian gunmen, some of whom had taken cover in homes. Six Palestinians were killed and 20 wounded by Israeli fire, eight of them seriously, hospital officials said.
Among the dead was Dr. Khalil Suleiman, head of local emergency services, whose ambulance came under fire near an Israeli checkpoint, the army said.
Ambulances could not reach many of the wounded for some time because of the heavy shooting, witnesses said. Suleiman was directing rescue efforts, and was riding in an ambulance when it was hit by an Israeli tank shell, officials at the Red Crescent said. Three of the doctor's colleagues in the ambulance were seriously wounded, the Red Crescent said.
Israeli army officials said the ambulance approached an Israeli checkpoint at high speed and soldiers opened fire, fearing it was trying to run them down. ``The ambulance blew up, which raises questions about what was in it and what the intentions of the drivers were,'' said Feingold.
The army has said ambulances are being used to smuggle weapons and gunmen, while Palestinians say soldiers have been firing indiscriminately at ambulances.
In the Gaza Strip, Israeli troops entered the Rafah refugee camp on the border with Egypt and demolished three buildings, witnesses said. Troops exchanged fire with local gunmen, killing two armed Palestinians and a civilian and wounding seven people, doctors said. The Israeli military said troops searched for tunnels used to smuggle arms under the border from Egypt.
Also Monday, Israeli troops shot and killed a Palestinian man who ran toward an Israeli army checkpoint near the West Bank town of Nablus, the army said.
The latest chain of attacks and reprisals began last week when Israel raided two Palestinian refugee camps _ Balata and Jenin _ in an attempt to break militant strongholds, killing 23 Palestinians in the fighting.
In retaliation, the Al Aqsa Brigades, a militia linked to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah militia, carried out back-to-back attacks.
On Saturday, a suicide bomber blew himself up in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem, killing himself and 10 Israelis, including five children. On Sunday, a sniper killed seven Israeli soldiers and three civilians at an army checkpoint in the West Bank.
Israel's security Cabinet decided in a meeting late Sunday to hit the Palestinians harder.
``We are in a war over our home and the war is horrible,'' Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told parliament Monday. ``But we will win. I am sure in the end that we will win and peace will come to this home.''
Justice Minister Meir Sheetrit said neither the left nor the right in Sharon's coalition government has a solution to the current conflict.
``If there was... I imagine Sharon would adopt it and every one of us in the Cabinet would adopt it,'' Sheetrit told Israel TV. ``I regret that there is no such magic solution.''
The Palestinian Authority demanded immediate international intervention to stop ``this barbaric Israeli aggression against our people and our land.''
A leader of the Al Aqsa Brigades said attacks on Israelis would continue. Many Palestinians are clamoring to become suicide bombers, said the militiaman, who called himself Abu Mujahed. ``Al Aqsa is becoming an army now and everyone wants to join,'' he said.