ISRAELI helicopters strike Palestinian police compounds

Saturday, May 19th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NABLUS, West Bank (AP) _ Israeli helicopters fired rockets at Palestinian security compounds in two West Bank towns on Saturday in a second day of air attacks in retaliation for a suicide bombing at an Israeli shopping mall.

Helicopter gunships attacked security installations in Jenin and Tulkarem, witnesses said. The Jenin compound was hit by eight rockets, and black smoke rose into the sky.

The new air raids came as tens of thousands of Palestinians, clamoring for revenge, buried 11 police officers killed in a rocket attack on the West Bank town of Nablus a day earlier.

Mourners jammed the streets. ``A million martyrs will march toward Jerusalem,'' the crowd chanted as dozens of gunmen fired in the air.

The procession was led by police pickup trucks carrying the flag-draped bodies of the victims, members of the Palestinian riot police whose compound in the center of Nablus was struck by two powerful rockets fired from F-16 warplanes.

In all, 12 Palestinians were killed Friday in the attack on Nablus and a separate strike on a building belonging to the Force 17 in the West Bank town of Ramallah.

It was the first time since the 1967 Mideast war that Israel attacked Palestinian targets with warplanes. In recent months, Israel has frequently shelled Palestinian security installations, but always from helicopters or tanks whose rockets that are less destructive.

A total of 19 people died Friday on one of the bloodiest days in eight months of fighting: the 12 Palestinian air raid victims, the suicide bomber, five Israelis at the mall and an Israeli motorist shot in a West Bank roadside ambush. Another 72 Israelis and 65 Palestinians were wounded.

Hamas claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing at the Sharon Mall in the Israeli coastal town of Netanya.

The assailant, Mahmoud Ahmed Marmash, nervously paced outside, and shoppers quickly became suspicious of the young Arab who wore a bulging blue sports coat on a hot day, and alerted police. Marmash blew himself up at the entrance to the mall before he could be seized.

Friday's strikes were the harshest retaliation yet for a Palestinian attack. Israeli warplanes rocketed targets in Nablus, Ramallah and a Palestinian coast guard compound north of Gaza City. Helicopter gunships shelled security installations in Gaza City and Tulkarem, the West Bank home town of the bomber.

Israeli Cabinet minister Danny Naveh said Israel would not hesitate to send its American-made combat planes into the Palestinian areas again.

In Washington on Friday, Secretary of State Colin Powell called for ``an unconditional cessation of violence'' and urged Middle East leaders to speak out more directly against violence.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan condemned the suicide bombing but said he was ``deeply disturbed by the disproportionate Israeli response,'' calling it ``excessive and misdirected.''

Israel holds Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat responsible for more than a dozen bombings that have killed 22 Israelis in the past eight months. The blasts, including several suicide bombings, were set off by Islamic militants, but Israel says Arafat's security forces have done nothing to stop the assailants.

One of Friday's targets was the Palestinian riot police compound in the center of Nablus. The commander, Sgt. Maj. Castro Salameh, said he was standing with some of his men in the hallway when two rockets hit the complex. He was hurled back by the force of the blast and suffered cuts to the head, arms and chest.

The twin blasts flattened nearly half of the complex.

The apparent target of the attack, Mahmoud Abu Hanoud, the suspected Hamas mastermind of several suicide bombings, was injured when the rockets blew out the ceiling of his cell in the compound. Palestinian security sources said Abu Hanoud, who tops Israel's most-wanted list, was set free Saturday.

In other new violence Saturday, a Palestinian policeman manning a checkpoint at a West Bank village near Jenin was killed by assailants shooting from a passing car that sped away toward Israel, Palestinian officials said.

The army said Israeli soldiers were on a mission and opened fire when three Palestinian policemen approached their vehicle.

In the Gaza Strip, a Palestinian farmer was killed by Israeli fire near the Karni crossing with Israel, Palestinian witnesses said. The army said it was checking the report.

The violence that erupted late in September has killed 468 people on the Palestinian side and 84 on the Israeli side.