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As Sharon Heads to White House, Palestinians Wreak Terror in Israel

February 8, 2002
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Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s meeting with President Bush this week comes amid continued violence back home.

On Wednesday night — a day before the meeting at the White House — a Palestinian gunman brought terror into an Israeli home in the West Bank.

The gunman was able to infiltrate the West Bank settlement of Hamra by wearing an Israeli army uniform.

He opened fire in an Israeli home there, killing 11-year-old Yael Ohana and then the girl’s mother, Miri, 50.

First Sgt. Maj. Moshe Medjus Mekonan, 33, an Ethiopian immigrant from Beit Shean, was killed in the clash with the gunman.

Two other soldiers were wounded.

The terrorist later was shot dead by Israeli forces.

Both Hamas and the Al Aksa Brigades, a group affiliated with Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement, claimed responsibility for the attack.

Soon after, Israeli planes retaliated by rocketing a Palestinian Authority headquarters in Nablus.

Palestinian sources said at least 11 people were wounded in the airstrike Wednesday night.

Just before the Israeli reprisal, guards at the Nablus jail released Hamas and Islamic Jihad prisoners.

In Jenin, armed Palestinians broke into the jail and released militants, including the head of Islamic Jihad in the West Bank.

Earlier Wednesday, Israeli police nabbed a suicide bomber en route to Jerusalem.

A bus driver stopped Wednesday at a military checkpoint on the outskirts of the city and told police he had spotted a suspicious-looking man on board, according to a police spokesman.

“There was some sort of a struggle on the bus,” the spokesman said.

When the police took the suspicious man off, they found an explosive belt on his body. Experts called to the scene safely defused the bomb.

In another incident, Israeli soldiers intercepted a shipment of eight missiles hidden aboard a Palestinian truck.

The soldiers found the Kassam-1 missiles after setting up a surprise roadblock late Tuesday night in Palestinian- controlled territory between the West Bank cities of Nablus and Jenin. The missiles were hidden beneath a cargo of fruits and vegetables.

Hamas terrorists have fired Kassam missiles at Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip, but the weapons have not yet been used in the West Bank, from which they could reach cities in central Israel.

Sharon already was en route to Washington when the Hamra attack occurred. Aides traveling with him said Sharon holds Arafat responsible for the attack.

Sharon said last week that he would ask Bush during their meeting to sever ties with Arafat.

On Wednesday, however, a top U.S. official said the United States will continue dealing with Arafat.

At a meeting in Cairo, William Burns, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, said Arafat remains the Palestinians’ chosen leader.

His comment came after Israeli Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer suggested during a visit to Washington that the United States should bypass Arafat and deal with other Palestinian officials.

On Thursday, National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice told Ben-Eliezer that Israel’s policy of isolating Arafat could boomerang and actually strengthen his position in Palestinian eyes.

Ben-Eliezer also asked U.S. officials to provide Israel with advance notice in case the United States attacks Iraq as part of its war on terrorism.

Ben-Eliezer said he told U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell during a meeting Tuesday that Israel needs time to prepare for a possible retaliatory attack by Iraq.

In another development, the White House announced Thursday that Vice President Dick Cheney will visit the Middle East from March 10-20.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Cheney’s trip will focus on regional stability and the war against terrorism.

“The vice president will hold wide-ranging discussions on matters of mutual interest, including our ongoing campaign against terrorism and other regional security issues,” White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Thursday.

Cheney will visit Israel and eight other countries, but more significant may be who is left off the itinerary — Yasser Arafat. It’s unclear whether Cheney will meet with other Palestinian leaders.

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