Israel Strikes Palestinian Targets After Bus Attack

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:08 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Retaliating for a massive roadside bomb that killed two teachers on a school bus, Israeli helicopter gunships and navy vessels launched strikes against Palestinian targets in the Gaza Strip on Monday after sundown, according to an Israeli army statement.

The air strikes, which plunged parts of Gaza City into darkness, were Israel's response to a massive roadside bomb that exploded early in the day, killing two teachers and wounding nine children and adults on the bus.

According to the Israeli army, Palestinian targets including the headquarters of Fatah-Tanzim organization and the headquarters of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat's private guard, Force 17 as well as communications centers were hit.

At least one Palestinian was killed and eight others wounded in the Israeli raids, according to reports.

Arafat tried to distance himself from the attack on the school bus. The PA earlier, said it had nothing to do with the attack. It was up to Israel, a PA official said, to stop attacks, which occur in areas under Israeli security control.

After the Israeli strikes, PA officials said that the Israeli move represented an escalation in the conflict, which has left more than 200 people dead in less than eight weeks of fighting.

Two teachers, a mother of four and father of six, were killed in Monday's attack when a bomb - a heavy caliber mortar shell surrounded by pieces of metal - was detonated about 100 yards from the school bus in which they were traveling.

Five children were wounded in the blast, which sent shrapnel flying through the heavily armored bus and out the other side.

Three of the children are siblings under the age of twelve, two of them had part of their hands amputated and doctors are fighting to save the 12-year-old's leg. A mother and her child were also among the wounded.

Three separate groups, two of them unknown, claimed responsibility for the roadside blast but Israeli officials maintained that Arafat's Fatah-Tanzim organization was responsible for the attack.

Israeli deputy defense minister, Ephraim Sneh, told a press briefing in Jerusalem that the attack was intended to "inflict as many casualties as possible."

Israel was not holding Arafat personally responsible for this attack, Sneh said, but blame rested on the Palestinian military establishment. It had been carried out, he said, with the "strategic" purpose of inflicting "irreversible damage" on the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and the possibility for reconciliation between Israel and the Palestinians.

"Those who planned, organized and carried out this attack decidedly knew," Sneh said, the impact it would have on the Israeli public when "children on the way to school will be so savagely attacked."

According to Sneh, Israel is demanding that terrorists released from Palestinian jails be re-arrested before any negotiations are resumed.

Political Zig-Zagging

The bomb blast triggered a renewal of talk of a national emergency government. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who has less than a third of the Israeli parliament behind him, suggested again today the formation of an emergency government to deal with the crisis.

Spokesman for Barak's Labor Party, Yerech Tal, said that the Labor party has declared that it is time to establish a national emergency government for a short period in order to put a stop to the violence.

However, the opposition Likud party rejected the offer, accusing Barak of political "zig zagging."

Barak has tried to prop up his failing government in many ways since several parties quit over fear that Barak would make too many concessions to Arafat if he participated in the U.S.-sponsored Camp David summit in July.

However, including opposition leader Ariel Sharon, who is viewed as a hawk, in his government would spell the end of the current negotiating process, which has been going on for seven years.

President Clinton, who has been working to bring about an end to the Israeli-PA conflict, said recently he believes that an agreement can still be reached before he leaves office in January.

Clinton's special envoy to the process, Dennis Ross, is due back in the region probably some time this week. According to U.S. Embassy spokesman in Tel Aviv, Larry Schwartz, Ross was to have returned early this week to "work on bringing about an end to violence" however his arrival has been postponed.

Ross, who was in Israel last week for the funeral of Leah Rabin, shuttled between Barak and Arafat trying to find a way to resume talks between them. Clinton, who would like get Barak and Arafat together for another three-way summit, still wants to obtain a legacy as Middle East peacemaker.