First Mortar Falls Inside Jerusalem

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:09 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - The Israeli-Palestinian Authority conflict took a turn for the worse on Tuesday, when a mortar fired by Palestinian militants landed for the first time inside Jerusalem's city limits.

Although the southern suburb of Gilo has come under repeated automatic weapons fire from the nearby PA-controlled area of Beit Jala, this attack marks the first time a mortar was fired at Jerusalem. No one was injured in the attack.

"If they start firing on our capital, where will it end?" one young Israeli asked.

Up until now, mortars have been fired only from the Gaza Strip, primarily at Israeli settlements located inside the Strip but occasionally landing inside Israel-proper.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's office said the mortar attack on Gilo represented a "serious escalation in the protracted armed struggle against Israel."

"We view this with grave concern and we will know how to react accordingly in the way which we deem fit," said David Baker, Sharon's foreign press coordinator.

"This is further proof that the Palestinian Authority has not only failed to take the necessary steps to thwart terror, but has turned a blind eye to continuous acts of terror against Israelis," Baker said.

The mortar attack followed an Israeli army helicopter strike near the home of the head of the military wing of Hamas, 45-year-old Omar Sa'ada, in the Bethlehem area.

Four Palestinians, including Sa'ada, were killed, and as many as 10 others wounded in the strike, according to Palestinian sources. Eshak Sa'ada, Taha al-Arouj and Mohammed Sa'ada were named as the three other Hamas militants killed in the attack.

The army said that the strike had "prevented with certainty a terror attack" inside Israel. Several other Hamas activists were with the military leader at the time, it said.

A senior Arafat aide, Ahmed Abdel-Rahman, called the helicopter strike "state-sponsored terrorism" and said it hurt PA efforts to restore calm.

Israeli military sources said Sa'ada had been planning an attack for the last night of the Maccabiah Games - known as the Jewish Olympics - currently taking place in Israel with the participation of more than 2,000 athletes from around the world.

The army said that it would "continue to target terrorists who are planning terror attacks against Israelis." In a statement, it charged the PA with the responsibility of preventing attacks and apprehending those planning them.

Earlier, Sharon updated President Bush on the latest deadly terror attack and the situation in the region.

Two soldiers, Avi Ben-Haroush and Hanit Hason-Armi, were killed and 10 other Israelis were wounded in a suicide bomb attack on Monday evening at a train station in northern Israel.

In his conversation with Bush, Sharon "emphasized the need for the free states of the world to create a unified and joint front to make a determined and uncompromising stand against local, regional and global terrorism," according to a statement from his office.

Because of the security situation, Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer earlier canceled a scheduled trip to the U.S. to meet with U.S. and U.N. officials.

Overnight, Israel retaliated for the suicide bombing by shelling positions of Arafat's special Force 17 guard in two West Bank towns.

Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the bombing and said it had been to avenge Israel's recent killing of Palestinian militants, including some belonging to its organization.