The President of Egypt has accused Ariel Sharon, Israel's Prime Minister,
of deliberately ordering Tuesday's "abominable" air strike on the Hamas military
leader in Gaza in order to sabotage Palestinian peace efforts. Fifteen people
were killed in the strike, including nine children.
Yesterday, a rabbi was killed and another man wounded when their car was ambushed
by Palestinian gunmen near a Jewish settlement in the West Bank. Two militant
groups claimed responsibility and said the attack was in retaliation for the Gaza
Western diplomats have confirmed that an agreement by some Palestinian militants
to end attacks on civilians was in its final stages when an Israeli F-16 warplane
dropped a one-tonne bomb on a packed residential district in the Gaza Strip on
"It shows the Israeli Prime Minister was probably not happy with these initiatives
and said, 'I will go ahead with this strike to sabotage these efforts'," said
Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian President, in Paris yesterday after he met his French
counterpart, President Jacques Chirac. "He must understand that if there is no
peace, it will lead to certain ruin for everyone, not just for the Palestinians
but for the Israeli people, who will not be able to live normally."
An Israeli newspaper has reported that leading figures in Yasser Arafat's
Fatah movement and Tanzim militia were about to issue a call for attacks on civilians
in Israel to end, and that Hamas had agreed to call off its attacks. The ceasefire
would not have applied to Israeli soldiers or to settlers in the occupied territories.
Hours before the air strike, the spiritual leader of Hamas, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin,
said the group would consider ending attacks on civilians if the Israeli army
withdrew from West bank towns it had reoccupied.
Since the assassination of Sheikh Salah Shahadah, Hamas has vowed to kill
hundreds of Israelis in retaliation.
Israel's Defense Minister, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, defended the strike yesterday,
saying Israel had information that Sheikh Shahadah was planning an attack "which
could shock the whole nation or kill hundreds".
Mr Sharon insists that if he had known there would be so many civilian casualties,
he would not have ordered the attack. But on the ground it was clear dropping
a one-tonne bomb on such a packed neighborhood was always going to cause heavy
In a separate development, the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, said yesterday
that Israel's use of American-made weapons in attacks that killed Palestinian
civilians was under review.
© 2002 lndependent Digital (UK) Ltd