JERUSALEM — Israeli F-16 warplanes destroyed a Palestinian Authority compound in a West Bank town today, and tanks tightened their ring around Yasser Arafat to an unprecedented degree — reprisals for an attack on an Israeli girl's bat mitzvah that left six partygoers and the Palestinian gunman dead.
The attack on the coming-of-age party and the Israeli response signaled the collapse of U.S. truce efforts.
This week's bloody events began with the killing of a Palestinian militia leader — widely attributed to Israel — that triggered revenge attacks, including the shooting spree inside a banquet hall in the Israeli town of Hadera late Thursday.
In Israel's reprisal, U.S.-made warplanes fired missiles at the large, two-story government compound in the West Bank town of Tulkarem early today, reducing it to rubble. A Palestinian policeman was killed and about 61 policemen and civilians were injured by shrapnel, including three who were in serious condition, doctors said.
In the West Bank town of Ramallah, Israeli forces overlooking Arafat's headquarters were reinforced and tanks rumbled forward to within 30 yards of the Palestinian leader's office — seen as Israel's sternest warning yet that Arafat's continued failure to rein in militants might one day spell the end of his rule.
Asked whether Arafat was under house arrest, Raanan Gissin, an adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said the Palestinian leader can "move around his compound and its immediate vicinity." Arafat has been confined to Ramallah for more than a month, with Israel saying he can only travel once he arrests the assassins of an Israeli Cabinet minister and those who ordered the killing.
About 4,000 Palestinians marched toward Arafat's office today to protest the Israeli incursions and demand the release of suspected Palestinian militants held by the Palestinian Authority, including Ahmed Saadat, a senior PLO officials whose faction killed the Israeli tourism minister in October.
Troops fired tear gas, rubber-coated steel bullets and live rounds. Three Palestinians were wounded by live fire, including one who was in serious condition, and five were hit by rubber bullets, doctors said.
In all, about 20 Israeli tanks took up positions in several neighborhoods of Ramallah. Soldiers searched the home of West Bank intelligence chief Tawfik Tirawi, who was not there at the time. Troops eventually left the house.
The violence left little hope that a U.S. truce mission could succeed. A U.S. envoy, Anthony Zinni, was to have returned to the region this week, but his trip was delayed because of the renewed violence.
Thursday night's attack on the Hadera banquet hall was the first deadly attack against Israeli civilians by Palestinian militants since a Dec. 2 bus bombing in the port city of Haifa in which 16 Israelis were killed. Four Israeli members of a Bedouin Arab battalion were killed Jan. 9 when two armed Palestinian men stormed their army post near the Gaza Strip.
In the banquet hall, about 180 guests were celebrating the bat mitzvah, or coming of age, of 12-year-old Nina Kardashova. The girl was dancing, surrounded by her family — who immigrated to Israel from the mountains of Russia's Dagestai"qdgion — when the gunman burst through the glass door, screamed in Arabic an opened fire.
Six people were killed, including Kardashova's 63-year-old grandfather, and 30 injured, police said. The gunman was identified as Abed Hassouna, a former Palestinian Authority policeman and member of the Al Aqsa Brigades, a militia linked to Arafat's Fatah movement.
Moti Hasson, who was dancing when he heard the shooting, said he hit the attacker in the face with the chair while other people threw bottles at him. Others dove under tables.
After Hasson hit the attacker, the man's gun jammed.
"His gun just stopped shooting," said Hasson, who was standing outside the banquet hall wearing a sweat shirt and carrying a bag of the clothes he wore during the attack, which were soaked with the gunman's blood.
People in the hall pushed the attacker outside, where he was shot dead by police. The attacker had a hand grenade and an ammunition belt.
Hadera is located in northern Israel, near the line separating Israel from the West Bank, and has been the scene of several Palestinian bombings in recent months.
In Tulkarem, about a dozen Al Aqsa Brigades militants marched through the streets Thursday night, shooting into the air to celebrate the Hadera attack.
Local gunmen said they had observed the Dec. 16 cease-fire declared by Arafat, but that they couldn't show restraint after their leader, Raed Karmi, was killed earlier this week in what Palestinians said was an Israeli assassination.
"In three weeks, Fatah groups ... didn't shoot a single bullet," said Raed Kanaan, the Fatah leader in Tulkarem. "But Israel and the world wouldn't accept this. Israel continued all the aggressive attacks, while the Americans gave justification to the Israeli aggression."
Israeli government spokesman Arie Mekel said the relative lull following Arafat's truce declaration had raised hopes that moves could be made toward the resumption of peace talks but they were dashed by intelligence warnings of planned Palestinian attacks.
"We thought for a while that we did see some light at the end of the tunnel," he said. "But then the information said that the Palestinians were planning more of these vicious attacks."
Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer called for the United States to send Zinni back to the region and pressure Arafat to rein in militants, particularly those from the Tanzim militia, also linked to Fatah.
"He is not preventing the Tanzim and terror organizations from carrying out attacks," a statement from Ben-Eliezer's office said.
The Palestinian Authority, meanwhile, asked the international community to intervene "before the entire (Palestinian) security apparatus collapses."