PA Defiant After Israeli Missile Attacks

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

Jerusalem ( - Israeli combat helicopters fired missiles overnight at the headquarters of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat's Fatah organization and at offices of his Force 17 private guard in retaliation for two terror attacks in Jerusalem, in which two Israelis were murdered and a third wounded.

The rocket attacks were intended to send a message to the PA that Israel will not tolerate terrorism, following the Jerusalem attacks and a spate of roadside bombings in the Gaza Strip. But a defiant PA says it will continue its "uprising."

Israel said the action was not a blanket retaliation but rather a "very precise action" aimed at sending a message. Army spokesman Capt. Ilan Sztulman said Tuesday warning shots had been fired before the attack to alert people to get out of the buildings. No casualties were reported.

The action was intended to "send a statement that we can't afford this kind of terrorism anymore," Sztulman said.

The attack marked tactical shift for Israel, which until now has maintained a policy of reacting to attacks rather going onto the offensive.

On Sunday, the Israeli army indicated it would begin to take calculated, initiated actions to strike at those behind the violence and what is beginning to look more and more like guerrilla warfare.

There have been more than 700 separate Palestinian shooting attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians over the past month, apart from regular rioting, stone-throwing and fire bombing incidents.

More than 140 Palestinians have been killed in the violence and some 7,000 have been hurt, 2,500 of them children, according to the PA Information ministry.

"We hope they'll get the message and stop [the violence]," Sztulman said.

Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh said Israel does not "want to broaden and deteriorate the conflict," but to bring about calm and return to the negotiating table. The action Israel was now taking "stems from this strategic goal."

Since Monday night's missile attack, the army spokesman said, things were "relatively calmer" throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

However, an Israeli bus was hit by gunfire on Tuesday. No-one was injured. And the PA airport in Gaza was closed down for a second time, for security reasons.

PA officials reacted angrily to the air strikes and said they did not weaken Palestinians' resolve to fight.

"The Israeli aggression against our people is escalating in accordance with Barak's plans," said senior Arafat aide Tayeb Abdel-Rahim. "This provocation will only increase our people's steadfastness and determination to confront these attackers."

Arafat said the missile hits "did not even ruffle the eyelashes of Palestinian children" who were throwing stones to ensure Jerusalem became the capital of a Palestinian state. Whoever did not like that goal, he added, could "go drink from the Gaza Sea."

Despite the explosive atmosphere, Barak indicated that he was moving in the direction of trying to reach a negotiated settlement with the PA, based on the same framework under which Israel has conducted talks for the last seven years.

Barak, who lost his parliamentary majority in July when three of his coalition partners quit over fears he would concede too much to Arafat at the Camp David talks that month, has now closed the door on a national emergency government with opposition leader Ariel Sharon.

Barak rejected Sharon's demand for veto power on any decisions made in the diplomatic process. He also refused Sharon's request that he say how Israel would react to any unilateral PA declaration of statehood.

The prime minister's largest former coalition partner, the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, agreed Monday night to provide Barak with a "safety net" for one month against any attempts to topple his government.

However, Shas leader Eli Yishai said in a radio interview that did not mean Shas supported any understandings reached at Camp David.

Those agreements, Yishai stressed, were "dead," and if Barak tried to resuscitate them, the safety net would be removed.

At Camp David, Barak reportedly offered Arafat partial autonomy over areas of Jerusalem with an Arab majority, as well as over the Temple Mount. He also offered to withdraw from the strategic Jordan Valley, according to reports. Arafat rejected the offer.