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Archive for Sunday, April 29, 2001

Jewish settlement shelled

April 29, 2001

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— Mortar shells crashed down Saturday on a Jewish settlement in the Gaza Strip, injuring five Israeli teen-agers, despite a call from Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat for his followers to stop using mortars and avoid targeting civilians.

The attack was directed at Netzer Hazani, in the center of the Gush Katif group of Jewish settlements in the southern Gaza Strip, while some of the youths were playing near a recreation center. All five were injured by shrapnel, one seriously, as at least one shell fell on or near the building. Television images showed blood smeared across a tile floor and around a bathroom sink and debris, including a tennis shoe, scattered around the room.

Two other mortar attacks were launched Friday night, also in Gaza, but caused no casualties.

A previously unknown group called the Four Martyrs, which claimed to be affiliated with Arafat's Fatah organization, took responsibility for Saturday's attack, saying it was a reprisal for a bomb blast Wednesday that killed four Fatah activists near Gaza's border with Egypt.

"This is the first step of our reactions to the Israeli aggression and will be followed by more," said the statement on leaflets distributed in Gaza and reported by news agencies.

Fatah officials said they had no knowledge of the Four Martyrs group and disavowed responsibility for the attack. Just days ago, Arafat was seen on television saying, in answer to a reporter's question, that all attacks on innocent civilians on both sides should be halted. Also, Arafat reportedly telephoned Omri Sharon, the 36-year-old son of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, to assure him that there would be no more firing of mortars.

The prime minister revealed the content of that telephone message in a radio interview, and for most of the week, the mortar firing did indeed stop.

Israeli officials reacted angrily to Saturday's attack, accusing Arafat of being directly responsible and of making public pledges to calm the violence only for international consumption.

The incident came the day before Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres is due to hold talks in Egypt to discuss new Arab-backed proposals for a cease-fire. It seemed likely to harden Israelis against resumption of Palestinian dialogue.

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