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Arafat's compound targetted by Israeli rocket

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October 14, 2000 


GAZA CITY, OCT 13 (AP) - In a day of incendiary violence that left Mideast peacemaking in ashes, Israeli helicopters rocketed Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's compound Thursday in retaliation for the mutilation of three Israeli soldiers by a mob of enraged Palestinians.

Late Thursday, Arafat spoke in a conference call with U.S. President Bill Clinton and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. After a meeting later with British Foreign Minister Robin Cook, British sources said Mubarak had issued invitations to the Israeli and Palestinian leaders to attend a summit meeting. There was no immediate confirmation of a summit from any side.

The day began with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and CIA chief George Tenet trying to broker a truce to end two weeks of daily fighting. But it degenerated swiftly, with both sides unleashing pent-up rage.

The Palestinians inflicted the worst losses yet on Israeli troops, while Israel's combat helicopters staged unprecedented attacks on high-profile Palestinian targets and tanks rumbled to the outskirts of Palestinian cities.

One Israeli rocket struck 150 feet from Arafat's seaside residential headquarters, with the Palestinian leader inside at the time, his aides said.

"This is a declaration of war - a crazy war," said Saeb Erekat, a senior Palestinian official.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak said Arafat "does not appear to be a partner for peace at this time."

Barak said he held Arafat indirectly responsible for the killing of the soldiers, and said Israel would hunt down those involved. He demanded that the United States publicly affix blame to Arafat for the collapse of the peace talks and the escalation of violence.

Barak also renewed calls to the hawkish opposition party Likud to join an emergency coalition. Likud has rebuffed Barak in the past, saying it would join only if he abandoned the peace talks. However, opposition leader Ariel Sharon - whose visit to a contested Jerusalem shrine two weeks ago triggered the violence - met with Barak Thursday.

Thursday's turmoil appeared to extinguish hopes that Israel and the Palestinians could soon negotiate a truce and bring an end to 15 days of bloodshed that have left at least 95 people dead, the vast majority Palestinians.

The attack on Arafat's compound and other key Palestinian targets was the first major Israeli assault on important Palestinian sites since Arafat returned to the region in 1994 and the two sides launched negotiations aimed at a comprehensive settlement.

A smiling, defiant Arafat was cheered by hundreds of Palestinians as he toured the Gaza sites hit by rockets, including a power station, a government building and a police station.

"Our people don't care, and don't hesitate to continue their march to Jerusalem, their capital of the independent Palestinian state," he said.

Arafat was also shown on TV visiting wounded in hospital.

While Israelis and Palestinians traded sharp words, Annan made a seemingly futile plea for calm.

"I appeal to all - leaders and citizens alike - to stop and think about what they are doing today and what kind of tomorrow they want for their children," he said. After a brief trip to Lebanon on Thursday, Annan returned to Israel to deal with the crisis.

The violence had been waning this week, but erupted anew when Israeli reservist soldiers made a wrong turn and ended up near the center of the West Bank town of Ramallah, a flashpoint of fighting between Israeli troops and Palestinian rioters.

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