West Bank, 18 July — Israel killed four Palestinians in an air raid on
Bethlehem yesterday that destroyed a house packed with women and children and
raised talk that their bitter conflict was moving a step closer to war.<?xml:namespace
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Late at night, the Israeli Army
deployed military reinforcements in the West Bank. Troops and tanks were sent to
various parts of the West Bank including around Bethlehem. “At this time the
Israeli Army is mobilizing infantry and armored vehicles” to the West Bank,”
military officials said.
The mid-afternoon helicopter
assault killed at least two activists of the Hamas movement and wounded 14
people, including a young girl who lost her arm, hospital sources said.
“The Palestinian National
Authority strongly condemns this gross aggression and considers it an act of war
perpetrated by the Israeli government against the unarmed and innocent
Palestinian population,” a Palestinian statement said. “From now on the
cease-fire has no meaning,” the main umbrella group of Palestinian movements
warned after the raid. Forty-five-year-old Omar Saada, a local official of Hamas
was among the four killed.
Witnesses said another Hamas
member, 40-year-old Taher Al-Arouj, was also killed along with two more members
of the Saada family, who reportedly had gathered to welcome a relative returning
from an Israeli jail.“The whole family was waiting in the garden,” one
family member told AFP, adding that nearly 40 people were on the scene at the
time. “This was a massacre.”
Palestinian police arrested
five suspected collaborators in Bethlehem accused of helping the Israelis carry
out the day’s deadly raid, security sources said.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s
office said he had called US President George W. Bush and warned that Israel
would defend itself in the face of the ongoing violence, which has continued
despite the US-brokered cease-fire.
The Palestinians say Israel has
assassinated around 40 activists since the Palestinian uprising was launched in
late September. More than 650 people have been killed since then.
The National and Islamic
Forces, a coalition of Palestinian groups, said in a statement that all Israeli
settlers and soldiers would now be considered targets after the raid on the
A mortar bomb was fired on
Jerusalem later yesterday, in what the army said was the first such attack since
the eruption of the intifada, triggering a retaliatory helicopter raid on a
nearby West Bank village.