Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - The Israeli army confirmed on Thursday that it had fired missiles from a helicopter at the car of a leading Palestinian militiaman, in what it called an "initiated military action."
The Fatah leader, Hussein Abayat, was killed and his deputy was critically wounded. Two women bystanders also were reported killed in the attack, which Palestinian officials warned would lead to an escalation in violence.
Israel said it launched the operation after it saw an "armed squad" in the same position from which gunmen had fired many times on Israeli security forces, the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo and the Jewish holy place of Rachel's tomb.
It said Hussein Abayat was responsible for shooting attacks in which three Israelis had been killed in the area of PA-controlled Bethlehem. The action was taken in line with the policy of "attacking elements responsible for escalating violence," Israel said.
Fatah, PA Chairman Yasser Arafat's faction, accused Israel of assassinating Abayat, and military leader Hussein a-Sheikh warned in a radio interview that Palestinian reaction would be "sharp and tough."
The attack could make Arafat's meeting with President Clinton on Thursday much more difficult. The meeting aims to quell the violence and renew negotiations between Israel and the PA.
See Earlier Story:
Father of Terror Victim Wants Clinton to Arrest Arafat Jerusalem (9 Nov. 2000)