Israel bombs home of Hamas leader

JERUSALEM — JERUSALEM - An Israeli warplane dropped a half-ton bomb on the Gaza City home of a top Hamas leader yesterday, killing his adult son and a bodyguard in swift retaliation for a pair of Palestinian suicide bombings that killed 15 people in Jerusalem and suburban Tel Aviv.

Israeli troops also briefly thrust into the West Bank town of Ramallah, engaging in scattered clashes and prompting Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to barricade himself inside his compound.


Spurred by the spiraling violence, the Palestinian prime minister-designate, Ahmed Qureia, formally accepted the job and said he would seek to be sworn in as early as today, together with a hastily assembled "crisis Cabinet." Qureia was chosen over the weekend by Arafat to replace Mahmoud Abbas, who resigned Saturday.

With all sides acknowledging that a U.S.-backed peace initiative lies in ruins, the government of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon contemplated wide-ranging attacks meant to crush Palestinian militant groups once and for all - and moved to weigh anew the fate of Arafat, whom Israel considers an architect of terror.


Sharon cut short a trip to India to fly home yesterday, and senior aides said security consultations upon his return would center on Arafat's role in the latest round of conflict.

The target of Israel's airstrike in Gaza, Hamas founding member Mahmoud Zahar, escaped from the rubble of his two-story home with relatively minor injuries, as did his 9-year-old daughter. His wife was more seriously hurt, hospital officials said. The slain son, Khaled, in his mid-20s, was their eldest.

Zahar, 58, a physician who works out of a storefront clinic in a Gaza slum, was defiant in the wake of the assassination attempt. Israel, he said from his hospital bed, "will have to bear responsibility for the consequences." The military wing of Hamas, infuriated by Israel's first-time targeting of a home where a leader lived with his family, said it would begin attacking Israeli homes and residential buildings in response.

Israel has killed a dozen Hamas leaders and operatives with pinpoint airstrikes in Gaza over the past three weeks - a campaign begun after Hamas carried out a Jerusalem bus bombing that killed 22 people.

Hamas also claimed responsibility for Tuesday's suicide bombings - one that killed eight people outside an army base near Tel Aviv, and a second at a bustling Jerusalem cafe that killed seven.

Hamas had pledged to "open the gates of hell" after Israel's failed attempt Saturday to kill its entire top echelon, including spiritual leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin, in a single strike.

Israel remained on a state of extremely high alert against new suicide bombings, deploying thousands of police and soldiers at points where attackers might try to enter from the West Bank.

Tuesday's suicide bombings, staged five hours apart, were clearly coordinated, Israeli authorities said. The bombers were identified as members of the same extended clan from the West Bank village of Rantis, north of Ramallah. Israeli troops stormed the village yesterday and made 20 arrests.


Israeli soldiers also staged a brief incursion into Ramallah yesterday afternoon, firing shots into the air and clashing with stone-throwing youths, Palestinian witnesses said. Arafat's aides hastily closed the gates of his walled headquarters, to which he has been confined for nearly two years. But the Israeli troops did not approach.

The move to seek quick confirmation for Qureia and his government was probably propelled by the sense that a continuing Palestinian power vacuum would give Sharon more of a free hand in striking at Arafat.

Qureia said he would seek to form an emergency Cabinet consisting of about six to eight ministers - about one-third the size of the previous Cabinet.

In between meetings with foreign diplomats at his office in the village of Abu Dis on Jerusalem's outskirts, Qureia appealed to Israel to work with him to try to quell the violence.

"Let us set to work and try to control the prevailing situation," he said. "I call on the Israeli government to reflect, and stay away from the arrogance of might."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.