Israeli helicopter gunships opened fire in the West Bank and Gaza Strip today after a Palestinian mob killed two Israeli soldiers.
Witnesses said helicopters fired in the vicinity of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s headquarters in Gaza City, but the building was not hit and the Palestinian leader was not in the building during the attack.
Palestinian hospital officials said 17 people were wounded in the attacks.
President Clinton today strongly condemned the killings of the Israeli soldiers and said he understood the “anguish” felt by Palestinians, but that there was “no possible justification for mob violence.”
He called on both sides to work immediately for a cease-fire, and to condemn all acts of violence.
The use of helicopter gunships by Israelis has been seen as a clear escalation of hostilities in the region and has drawn strong reactions from the Palestinian side.
Black columns of smoke rose from Gaza City, and plumes of smoke curled above Ramallah, where witnesses said a radio transmission building, near Arafat’s office in the city, was hit.
The Israeli attack came shortly after Arafat met with CIA Director George Tenet in Gaza City.
It was the toughest Israeli military operation against the Palestinians in two weeks of violence in which at least 96 people have been killed, almost all Arabs.
Israeli helicopter gunships fired missiles that knocked the Voice of Palestine radio off the air, witnesses said.
In Ramallah, Israeli rockets hit the police station where the killings of the Israeli soldiers took place and the official Palestinian TV station, which had been broadcasting extensive video of the violent clashes of the past two weeks.
The police station was reduced to rubble, and flames were pouring from a second building.
Israel is also keeping Palestinians from leaving their communities in the West Bank.
More Reprisals, If Necessary
Hours after the launch of the attack, during which Israel gunships rocketed five targets in Ramallah and Gaza City, Danny Yatom, a senior aide to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, announced that the round of assaults were over.
However, Yatom warned of further reprisals, if necessary. “If the Palestinian Authority succeeds to do what Arafat promised so many times — to stop the violence, to stop the terror and to stop the shooting at our people, we won’t take action,” he said.
“If the Palestinian Authority doesn’t succeed … we will be forced to defend ourselves and take action,” Yatom said.
The Israeli Cabinet is holding an emergency meeting today.
Mob Attacks Israeli Soldiers
The Israeli attack came hours after Palestinian youths in Ramallah seized four Israeli soldiers, described by the Israeli army as “uniformed reservists,” killing two and seriously injuring one, who was taken to hospital. The fourth soldier is believed to have escaped.
In what the Israeli army called a “lynching,” at least one body was tossed out of a window into a crowd of hundreds of youths in Palestinian-ruled Ramallah, witnesses said. A car in which the soldiers apparently had been traveling was burned.
Israeli radio said the bodies of the two soldiers were taken to an Israeli army liaison office near Ramallah, where a military doctor pronounced them dead. Palestinian police sources said the two were stabbed to death.
An ABCNEWS team in Ramallah was attacked as they were photographing the attack on the Israeli soldiers.