Powerful Explosion Rocks Ramallah

Published April 19th, 2001 - 02:00 GMT

A powerful explosion occurred in the center of the West Bank city of Ramallah on Thursday when a booby-trapped car exploded near a building belonging to the Palestinian presidential guards, Force 17. 

Three Palestinians were injured, said Palestinian TV. 

Palestinian sources were quoted by Al Jazeera TV as saying the blast was most probably caused by a helicopter rocket. 

However, Israeli sources said it was “an internal explosion,” in which Israel has no involvement. 

The explosion came amid news that the Israeli security cabinet discussed at a special meeting which ended Thursday afternoon ways to curb mortar attacks by Palestinians on Israeli targets. 

The meeting covered possible military responses to renewed Palestinian mortar fire Wednesday evening on Israeli territory, according to military radio. 

The security cabinet, which has 12 ministers, has approved a mandate giving a triumvirate of Sharon, Defense Minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres the right to make whatever decision the security situation requires. 




Meanwhile, Israeli tanks shelled Thursday a Palestinian security building in the southern area of Beit Hanoun in the Gaza Strip, said reports. 

The Israeli army also fired randomly at Palestinians near the crossing points of the Martyrs (Netzarim) and Muntar (Karni), reported Al-Jazeera satellite channel. 

The TV report said that four Palestinians were injured in Qalandya refugee camp near Jerusalem in clashes with Israeli troops. 

In Ramallah, The Jerusalem Post said that Intifada activists threw stones at an Israeli army jeep, but there were no injuries.  



A member of the Islamic Resistance Hamas military wing, Izzeddine el-Qassam, was in critical condition Thursday after he was wounded overnight near the Jewish settlement of Kfar Darom in the Gaza Strip, reported the Palestinian WAFA news agency.  

There were contradictory reports on how Khalil Sakani, 25, was wounded. 

A statement by the movement said that Sakani was wounded in an exchange of fire between Palestinians and Israeli troops. 

The statement, cited by the Kuwait news agency KUNA, said he was wounded in Deir el-Balah town. 

Hamas spokesman, Abdulaziz Rantisi said Sakani was wounded when he fired mortar shells at Jewish settlements in the area. 

However, Israeli military sources told Haaretz that according to an initial check conducted by the army, "there was no exchange of fire in the area where Sakani was injured." 

Meanwhile, Palestinian officials told Haaretz that he was shot in the face in an assassination attempt by Israeli troops. 




Earlier in the day, a Jewish settler sustained minor wounds Wednesday in a stoning incident on the Houssan bypass road south of Jerusalem, reported The Jerusalem Post.  

The second is a farmer from kibbutz neat Oz inside the Green Line. Army Radio said that he was shot in the face by Palestinian snipers in Gaza when he was working on his farm at noon.  

He was rushed to hospital.  

Elsewhere, Israeli soldiers dispersed stonethrowing students at a school in the northern West Bank village of Hawara near Nablus, said the Post, adding that the youths were targeting Israeli vehicles traveling on a nearby road.  

Also in Nablus, a roadside bomb blew up on the road connecting the Jewish settlements of Homesh and Shavei Shomron, the paper said, adding that no injuries were reported.  

On Wednesday, Israeli tanks and army bulldozers entered a Palestinian-controlled area of the Gaza Strip near the Egyptian border, and demolished a Palestinian police station.  






US President George Bush urged Wednesday restraint in the Middle East in a telephone call to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, saying "restoration of peace and stability is in the interests of both the United States and Israel." 

"Both leaders agreed on the need for restraint by both parties to avoid further escalation in the area," White House spokeswoman Mary Ellen Countryman said, cited by Haaretz newspaper. 

The telephone call lasted for 15 minutes, said Monte Carlo Radio, adding that since escalation has flared in the Palestinian territories, Bush and Secretary of State Collin Powell only talked to Israeli and Palestinian officials, but Arab leaders were out of the picture. 

Meanwhile, the State Department said Palestinian leaders had not taken adequate steps to curb violence against Israel despite urgent US appeals, the paper said.  

"We haven't seen on the Palestinian side the kind of calls for an end to violence to stop the shootings," department spokesman Richard Boucher said, quoted by the paper.  

At the White House, Bush signed a routine memorandum to allow the PLO to maintain its office in Washington, waiving requirements of a 1987 anti-terrorism law, said Monte Carlo.  

The main PLO factions are not on the State Department's latest list of terrorist organizations.  

Also on Wednesday, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres spoke by telephone with Powell to explain Israel's position after harsh US criticism of the Jewish state's occupation of Palestinian areas in the Gaza Strip, said AFP. 

"There were problems of communication due to the fact that Israel did not inform the United States in advance of the military occupation Monday evening in an autonomous Palestinian sector that it would be for a limited time," a foreign ministry official said. 

Powell had denounced Israel's short-lived land grab, while noting that it was precipitated by "provocative" Palestinian mortar attacks. 

"The Israeli response was excessive and disproportionate. We call upon both sides to respect the agreements they've signed," he said in a statement. 

Israeli radio reported that Peres told his American counterpart that if the United States had been informed as to the temporary nature of the operation, it probably would not have issued such a critical statement, added AFP. 

Israeli forces withdrew late Tuesday from an area in the northern Gaza Strip it had retaken during a fierce land, ground and sea assault over Monday night in retaliation for a mortar attack on a nearby Israeli town. 

It was the first such action since the Palestinians were granted limited self-rule in 1994 and violated peace agreements. 

"The Israeli withdrawal was complete and over," Peres told CNN television. "We do not want to occupy the Palestinians, we do not want to dominate their lives. It stands against our moral code. 

"What we are doing is not to enhance any occupation but simply to guarantee the lives of civilians and soldiers in Israel," he added. 




MK Dan Meridor, chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Security committee has assigned the subcommittee on the intelligence services, the most secret subcommittee of the house, the task of investigating the 24-hour incursion into Gaza earlier this week by the Israeli army, reported Haaretz newspaper. 

Meridor's decision to set up the inquiry followed the poor impression he received from public reports and his own sources about the way in which the operation was authorized, its projected results at the political level, both regarding the Americans and Palestinians, said the paper. 

The Jerusalem Post reported that the Israeli government and some military officers, during a security cabinet meeting, presented conflicting versions Wednesday of the events that led to Tuesday night's pull-out from the areas retaken in Gaza. 

Government officials said it was made clear that the Israeli army was to withdraw by Tuesday's nightfall, while some ranking military officers denied ever hearing such orders, said the Post.  

For the purposes of the inquiry, which has the power to subpoena witnesses, Haaretz reported that the sub-committee may be supported by more MKs from other sub-committees of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. The inquiry is to begin next week, after a previously scheduled appearance before the committee by Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, the paper added. 

The inquiry is calling in all the documentation about the events, including transcripts of telephone conversations between Sharon's office and the army, as well as phone calls made within the army. 

Among those to be called to testify are Sharon, his military secretary Brig. Gen. Gadi Eisencott, the defense minister and his military secretary, Col. Amir Neuman, Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz, Deputy Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon, Military Intelligence Commander Maj. Gen. Amos Malka, Operations Commander Maj. Gen. Dan Harel, Southern Command's Maj. Gen. Doron Almog and Brig. Gen. Yair Naveh, who only hours before the withdrawal said that the army would stay in Beit Hanoun "for days, weeks, even months, if necessary, until the mortars stop." - Albawaba.com 




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