Israel launches missile attack on Gaza

 

Israel has launched helicopter missile strikes in Gaza and cut off its main roads after a Palestinian woman suicide bomber killed 19 people, including four children, in an Israeli beach restaurant.

Yesterday's bombing at the Maxim restaurant, frequented by Jews and Arabs in the northern city of Haifa, triggered fresh calls in Israel to exile Palestinian President Yasser Arafat.

An Israeli government source said no decision on Arafat was imminent. Israel shuts down for 25 hours from sundown on Sunday for Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement.

The United States, Israel's main ally and chief sponsor of a stalled peace "road map", opposes banishing Arafat from the Palestinian areas, saying exile would win him world sympathy.

Israel's missile strikes damaged a Palestinian militant's home in Gaza City and struck an electricity generator in el-Bureij refugee camp. No one was badly hurt. The army said helicopters attacked two weapons depots of the Hamas group.

Israeli forces blocked the Gaza Strip's main north-south highway and its coastal road to Palestinian traffic, a measure it has taken after past suicide bombings and an edict Palestinians condemn as collective punishment.

The dead in the Haifa bombing included five members of one family - a grandmother, her son, daughter-in-law and their two children, aged four and 14 months. A retired submarine commander, his wife and their son and grandchild were among others killed.

Several Israeli Arabs were also among the dead and police said about 50 people were wounded.

The Islamic Jihad group claimed responsibility for the restaurant attack and named the bomber as Hanadi Tayseer Jaradat, a 29-year-old lawyer from the West Bank city of Jenin whom an Israeli newspaper dubbed "the devil's advocate".

Islamic Jihad and relatives said she was avenging the killing of her brother and cousin, Islamic Jihad members, by Israel in a three-year-old Palestinian uprising for statehood.

The Israeli army blew up her family home, where seven relatives lived, early on Sunday, witnesses said.

The suicide attack was the first since twin bombings killed 15 people on September 9 and the first since Israel's cabinet decided in principle on September 11 to "remove" Arafat. It has accused him of fomenting violence, an allegation he denies.

The latest bombing darkened the national mood in Israel as the Jewish state prepared for the Yom Kippur fast day, when traffic comes to a halt, Israeli radio and TV stations suspend broadcasts and Tel Aviv international airport closes.

Rabbis issued rulings allowing worshippers to carry guns to synagogue amid a high security alert for further bombings.

Arafat condemned the Haifa attack and said it would give Israel a pretext to obstruct international peace efforts.

Palestinian Prime Minister-designate Ahmed Qurie, whose government is obliged to rein in militants under the road map, urged Palestinians to "fully halt these actions that target civilians". Israel said that was "too little and too late".

About 30 Arafat supporters, including some foreigners, went to his compound in the West Bank city of Ramallah to act as "human shields", witnesses said.