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Israelis hit Arab sites in Gaza

Attacks come shortly after suicide bomber kills 2 Israeli teens

JERUSALEM — Israeli forces mounted air attacks on Palestinian targets in the Gaza Strip and West Bank Wednesday, hours after a Palestinian suicide bomber killed two Israeli teenagers.

Witnesses said helicopter gunships fired missiles on Gaza, and Israeli television said helicopter gunships also opened fire on the West Bank city of Ramallah. An army spokesman confirmed the raids, which he called "very precise strikes" on targets "chosen for their involvement in terror activity."

An aide to Palestinian President Yasser Arafat described the Israeli attacks as "unjustified aggression."

The airstrikes followed a spate of bomb attacks in Israel Tuesday and Wednesday. A suicide bomber killed himself and two Israeli teenagers at a bus stop in central Israel near the border with the West Bank early Wednesday.

Witnesses said the victims' bodies were blown apart, and army engineers defused two other bombs as Palestinian militant groups claimed responsibility for the attack northeast of Tel Aviv and vowed to carry out more bombings.

"I saw my friends blown apart. One of them was without hands," said Rafael Zomer, 15, who was also waiting for an armored bus to take the youngsters to school at a Jewish settlement in the West Bank. He suffered minor injuries.

In the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Palestinians said an old woman died after inhaling tear gas fired by Israeli troops and that a child aged about 12 was killed by an Israeli booby trap.

The Israeli army denied knowledge of the first case and flatly denied blame for the second.

After the latest violence, Arab leaders called at a summit in Jordan for an international force to protect Palestinians in revolt against Israeli occupation.

They also demanded that Israeli "war criminals" be put on trial and approved a proposal to send $240 million in emergency aid to the Palestinian Authority over the next six months.

In a blow to the Palestinian cause, the United States used its veto Tuesday to kill a U.N. Security Council resolution that would have backed the sending of an unarmed international observer force to the West Bank and Gaza.

Wednesday's suicide blast followed two bombs in Jerusalem Tuesday. Police said a man walked up to a group of Israeli children waiting for a school bus at Newe Yamin, about 15 miles northeast of Tel Aviv, and detonated a nail bomb.

"Suddenly an Arab came up to my friends. He looked suspicious. Then I heard an explosion," Zomer said.

Hospital staff said one youngster was seriously injured by the nail bomb, one moderately and two lightly.

Hananel Twito, 12, told Reuters the bomber wore a leather jacket and that his body disintegrated in the blast.

A telephone caller who said he was from the military wing of Hamas said the Islamic group had carried out the attack.

"The elite unit 103 returned to base safely after moving the martyr to the place of the operation," the caller said. "There are still seven martyrs ready to strike and we have more."

The caller also claimed responsibility on behalf of Hamas for a suicide bombing which killed the bomber and injured at least 30 people in Jerusalem Tuesday, and for a bomb which police defused in the coastal city of Netanya Wednesday.

A separate little-known group faxed Reuters with a rival claim to the bombings. Another bomb was defused Wednesday in a market in the central Israeli city of Petah Tikva.

"The formula is clear — as long as the occupation exists there will be resistance and fighting," the wheelchair-bound founder of Hamas, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, told Reuters.

At least 354 Palestinians, 69 Israelis and 13 Israeli Arabs have been killed since violence erupted in late September after peace talks became deadlocked.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon pointed the finger of blame at Arafat. The Palestinians blamed Israel for the bloodshed.

"To my sorrow, despite the fact that many in the world thought—there were some who had no illusions—that a new leader had arisen here, to my sorrow he (Arafat) has remained a leader of terror," Sharon said.

Palestinians call Sharon a war criminal and terrorist, and say Israel's occupation is the cause of the violence.

"The occupation and the daily killing of Palestinian woman, men and children in Gaza and the West Bank prompts the military operations against the Zionists," Yassin said.

Israel's security cabinet was to meet Wednesday to consider its response to the latest attacks. Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said it would not be provoked into overreaction, although Sharon faces growing pressure to respond.

Violence continued in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which Israel has occupied since the 1967 Middle East war.

The Palestinian public security chief said a Palestinian child was killed and three were hurt when they picked up booby-trapped boxing gloves which he said were planted by Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip. All were aged about 12.

The army said it completely denied the charge and said Palestinians had unleashed a barrage of gunfire and grenades at its troops in the area. It said it replied with gunfire.

A Palestinian woman aged 70 died after inhaling tear gas fired by troops into her home in the West Bank village of Jaba, a Palestinian hospital official said. The army said it had used "riot dispersal" methods but knew nothing of the woman's death.

Gunbattles erupted in Nablus in the West Bank. Palestinian hospital staff said troops shot dead an 11-year-old Palestinian boy Tuesday near the West Bank city of Hebron.

Tensions have been high in Hebron since the 10-month-old daughter of a Jewish settler was shot by a suspected Palestinian sniper Monday. Settlers burned Palestinian cars and buildings overnight and Wednesday, witnesses said.