Israel Helicopters Attack West Bank Towns Into the Night
Israeli helicopters fired rockets and guns on several towns in the West Bank Thursday night after a wave of air strikes on Palestinian targets in retaliation for a lynching of Israeli soldiers.
Four rockets slammed into a Palestinian police academy in Jericho, considered the oldest city in the world, but there were no immediate reports of injuries, witnesses said.
"The air force was responding to a fire set by Palestinians on an ancient synagogue on the outskirts of Jericho," an army spokesman said.
Witnesses said around 100 Palestinian youths hurled Molotov cocktails at the synagogue but were blocked by Palestinian police in the town, which was the first in the West Bank to come under self-rule following the 1993 Oslo peace accords.
Some firebombs landed at the entrance to the Jewish holy site, but firefighters doused the flames despite being hampered by the demonstrators, who were protesting at the earlier Israeli air strikes in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The synagogue is situated in a zone under full Palestinian control, but Jews are allowed to visit under the autonomy accords.
The police academy suffered some damage, but there were no reports of injuries as the building had been evacuated several hours earlier, witnesses said, adding that electricity had been cut just ahead of the raid.
Last Saturday, a Palestinian mob destroyed Joseph's Tomb, a Jewish holy shrine in the northern West Bank town of Nablus that had become a flashpoint for Israeli-Palestinian clashes, after it was evacuated by the army.
Since September 28, more than 100 people have died in the unrest, most of them Palestinians.
Medical officials said that 36 Palestinians were wounded, most of them lightly, during the daylight rocket attacks, which the army said was a "symbolic warning" following the lynching of three Israelis in Ramallah.
Helicopters also strafed Nablus and the divided town of Hebron in the south with machine gun fire Thursday night, several hours after the Israeli government had announced the end of military action against the Palestinians.
And Jewish settlers went on the rampage near Hebron, shooting and wounding three Palestinians as the Israeli helicopter gunships fired, witnesses said.
One Palestinian was shot in the head by a group of settlers near the Arab village of Sair north of Hebron, they said. Settlers also set fire to Palestinian-owned cars near the Telem settlement west of Hebron.
Witnesses in Nablus said the helicopters targeted a police station near Joseph's Tomb.
The Israeli army said in a statement that there were "incidents" in the Palestinian territories, but did not confirm the events in Nablus and Hebron.
It said one Israeli citizen was injured by stones in Qalqilia to the north of Nablus, where there were also shots fired without injuries.
In the Gaza Strip, the army said one border guard and one Israeli citizen were slightly wounded when they were shot at near the Gush Katif settlement.
It also reported an explosion at the Sufa truck border-crossing point between Israel and the Gaza Strip, but made no mention of any injuries, while bottles and stones were thrown from the Egyptian side of the border at the Rafah crossing.
Also in Gaza, thousands of Palestinians marched in the street to protest at the raids, calling for "resistance against Israel" and for people to unite behind Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat -- JERICHO, West Bank (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)