IDF helo strike kills Hamasniks, young bystanders
- New York Times
August 1, 2001
Israeli Raid Kills 8 at Hamas Office
By CLYDE HABERMAN
NABLUS, West Bank, July 31 � Eight Palestinians, including two small boys,
were killed today when Israeli Army helicopters fired missiles into the
offices here of the militant Islamic group Hamas, igniting fury on the
street and demands for swift revenge.
It was the deadliest incident in the Middle East conflict since a supposed
cease-fire went into effect seven weeks ago. Combined with an explosion
north of Nablus that killed six Palestinians on Monday and shootings in the
Gaza Strip that took two more lives today, 16 people have died in the last
two days, all of them Palestinians.
The violence continued into the night with reports of two Palestinian
drive-by shootings that wounded five Israelis, one gravely, in the West
Bank. There were also heavy exchanges of gunfire on Jerusalem's southern
rim, a frequent flash point that had been quiet in recent days.
Taken together, the events suggested that the bloodshed, now in its 11th
month, is not about to end any time soon.
Once again, Israelis and Palestinians blamed each other for sabotaging hopes
for peace. Efforts led by the United States to put some kind of monitoring
mechanism in place have yet to yield results. As for the cease- fire,
brokered by the Americans in mid-June, there has been not a day when it
could truly begin to take root.
The dead today included the two boys, brothers who were hit by debris as
they happened to pass by when the attack occurred, and two local Hamas
leaders who were the Israelis' intended targets.
The army appeared to have been aiming in particular to kill Jamal Mansour,
who had been arrested many times by Israel and the Palestinian Authority and
who was said by the Israelis to have been behind major terrorist bombings.
The office of Israel's prime minister, Ariel Sharon, issued a statement
after the attack saying Mr. Mansour and the other senior Hamas figure, Jamal
Salim, "were in the process of planning further terrorist acts." The army
acted to prevent them, the statement said, though adding its regret about
the death of the two boys, Bilal Abu Khader, 7, and his brother Ashraf, 5.
Hamas leaders warned that Israel would pay for what happened today, and
their threats intensified nervousness among Israelis, who were already on
high alert for terrorist bombs.
In the devastated Hamas offices here, three floors up from the street, young
women from the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees picked
carefully through blood- soaked rubble, collecting body parts. They had to
wade across a thick carpet of paper, twisted furniture, upended chairs and
shattered computer terminals.
On the streets of Nablus there was unbridled rage.
"This is not seen as just an action against Hamas," said Muhammad Amudi, a
Nablus resident who was standing across the street from the newly charred
and pockmarked building on Assika Road where the Hamas offices had been.
"It's an act against the Palestinian people. When something like this
happens, people don't think Hamas or Fatah or Islamic Jihad. They think all
our people are targeted."
Qassem Shamoot, who runs a computer store on the ground level of the
seven-story building that was hit, saw at first hand the precision of the
Israeli helicopters. The damage was relatively light on all floors except
the one where Hamas used to be. Nevertheless, Mr. Shamoot said, everything
shook, himself included, when the missiles struck.
"I wanted to leave my store, but I didn't know what happened," he said.
"There was all this dust, and I couldn't see. So I felt my way along the
wall to find my way out."
"But when I got out," he said, "I saw the two kids lying on top of each
other." Mr. Shamoot placed his right hand on top of his left to illustrate
how he had found young Bilal and Ashraf.
"I lost control," he said. "I started screaming `God is great, God is
great,' and called to people to bring us ambulances."
Next to him stood Ghassan Khadair, who broke in to say, "Sharon claims
Palestinians are terrorists, but this shows he is the terrorist. He should
pay a price for it."
Besides the eight people who were were killed, who included office workers
and two journalists, six people were said to have been seriously wounded.
A sign outside the front door, still intact, identified the place as the
Palestinian Center for Studies and Media. "These people were sitting safely
in their office," said Ahmed Saker, identifying himself as a Hamas member.
"It was an office for study."
"Jamal Mansour was arrested by the Israelis more than 13 times," Mr. Saker
said. "They deported him to Lebanon once. That should have been enough for
the Israelis to know who Jamal Mansour was. If he was Hamas military, they
never would have released him."
But Israel insists that Mr. Mansour did indeed have Israeli blood on his
hands. Television reporters who cover such matters said tonight that
security officials had told them that the Nablus office had played a role in
several bombings, including one at a Tel Aviv disco in early June that
killed 22 Israelis.
The Israeli pattern in recent months of targeting specific people for death
has outraged Palestinians. Jibril Rajoub, the Palestinian Authority's
security chief in the West Bank, called the policy barbaric, and some
international human rights groups have added their condemnation.
But the Israeli government defends the tactic as a life-saving one for
Israelis, made necessary by the conflict.
Several times now, Israel has readily acknowledged killing Hamas figures. It
has been noticeably more circumspect in the deaths of people belonging to
the Fatah faction of Yasir Arafat, the Palestinian Authority chairman,
including the six who died in the explosion on Monday.
In those incidents � and there have been several � the Israelis tend to deny
any involvement, despite Palestinian charges of assassination. Typically, as
was the case on Monday, Israel attributes Fatah deaths to "work accidents,"
a euphemism for people blowing themselves up by mistake while piecing bombs
The Israeli killing policy was vigorously defended today by Ephraim Sneh,
the transportation minister and a former army commander in the West Bank.
"Anyone who thinks that the war against terrorism is a Ping-Pong war simply
doesn't understand it," Mr. Sneh told the army radio station. "You must also
make pre-emptive strikes. As soon as you know about terrorists preparing an
attack, it is your duty to strike them first."
In Amman, Jordan, Reuters reported that Mr. Arafat had called the killings
today "a very dangerous conspiracy to liquidate our cadets." Once again, he
urged world leaders to send international observers to the Palestinian
But some high-ranking Israelis have begun to say in increasingly blunt terms
that Mr. Arafat is the problem. The army chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Shaul
Mofaz, said at a news conference today that Mr. Arafat's Palestinian
Authority had given "a green light" to terrorist attacks, and "these have
accelerated of late."
"I think that anyone who sees the data realizes that the Palestinian
Authority has become a terrorist entity," the general said. "I don't think
there is anyone who would dispute that today in light of the data, and this
should be said loudly."
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