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None dare call it war


JERUSALEM, March 5 (JTA) — Call it the war that neither side is formally willing to declare.

For much of the 17 months of Israeli-Palestinian violence, a case could be made against using the word. But now, with barely a moment’s breather between attack and counterattack, it seems as if the dogs of war have indeed been loosed, even in the absence of any formal declarations.

Indeed, given the battle for world opinion that is being waged alongside the fighting on the ground, it appears each side has determined there is nothing to be gained from making such declarations.

True, enraged Israeli officials from time to time have described the situation as war, but they have refrained from doing so in any formal way. During this week alone, the dizzying array of attacks had claimed dozens of victims from both sides of the battle lines. “Trapped in hell,” is how Ma’ariv commentator Chemi Shalev described the situation Sunday. “Every time we think ‘it can’t get worse,’ it gets a lot worse.” The “cycle of violence,” as officials here and abroad like to describe the war, has indeed accelerated since the fighting first erupted 17 months ago.

Back then, it could be a matter of days between an action and the retributive reaction. Now, it is just hours. On Tuesday alone, five Israelis were killed in a series of terror attacks, and three Israeli children were wounded by a missile fired into Israel from the Gaza Strip:

• In Tel Aviv, a Palestinian terrorist opened fire on two restaurants early Tuesday morning, killing three Israelis and wounding dozens. The terrorist also stabbed passers-by before being shot and killed by a man in the restaurant and a police officer.

• In Afula, a suicide bomber blew himself up on a bus at the central bus station, killing one person and wounding 10.

• Near Bethlehem, an Israeli woman was killed and her husband moderately wounded when shots were fired at their car. Shortly after the attack, an Israeli television reporter was slightly hurt when Palestinians fired on Israeli troops searching the area.

• In the Negev city of Sderot, three Israeli children were wounded when Palestinians fired Kassam missiles. A 1-year-old baby was moderately wounded and two other children lightly injured by the rockets, which were fired from the Gaza Strip at a residential neighborhood in Sderot.

Palestinians have recently begun firing the rockets at Israeli targets, each time with greater accuracy. Israeli officials had warned that the missiles would soon be directed at Israeli population centers.

The high Israeli casualties this week prompted a response from Jewish vigilantes. On Tuesday, a previously unknown Jewish group calling itself Revenge of the Oppressed claimed responsibility for a bombing outside an eastern Jerusalem school. Seven Arab students and three teachers were lightly hurt in the explosion in the Tsur Baher neighborhood.

Following the bombing, local Arab residents began throwing rocks at Israeli police, who fired tear gas in response. In retaliation for the Palestinian attacks, Israeli helicopters fired missiles Tuesday at Palestinian Authority security targets in Ramallah and Nablus. Earlier in the day, Israel also fired missiles at Palestinian security headquarters in Khan Yunis in the Gaza Strip.

During a meeting Tuesday, Israel’s Security Cabinet decided to intensify attacks against Palestinian targets to retaliate for the surge in Arab terror. In another development Tuesday, one Palestinian was killed and 15 wounded following an explosion in the Shati refugee camp in northern Gaza. The cause of the blast was not clear.

Palestinians at the scene said they saw no Israeli aircraft attacking and suggested the blast might have been a “work accident” — a bomb that went off as it was being prepared by terrorists.

Tuesday’s violence came on the heels of massive Israeli air, ground and sea assaults on Palestinian Authority targets a day earlier in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Sixteen Palestinians were reported killed in those attacks. In one incident Monday, Israel killed six Palestinians when it blew up the car of a Hamas member. An Israeli tank shell hit the car in the West Bank city of Ramallah, killing the six, including the Hamas member’s wife and three children. The Hamas member, Hussein Abu Kwaik, was not in the car.

Israeli Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer later issued a statement expressing regret and saying that the shell had been fired at a vehicle carrying armed Palestinians and that “an adjacent vehicle carrying civilians was hit by mistake.” Hamas called it a “Zionist crime” and said Israel would “pay a heavy price.”

In the dizzying dance of death that has the region in its firm embrace, Israel’s assaults on Monday followed a weekend of deadly Palestinian terror.

• On Saturday night, a suicide bomber killed nine Israelis just after the Sabbath in the fervently Orthodox neighborhood of Beit Israel, near Mea Shearim. The victims included six children. A 10th Israeli died of his wounds the following day. According to reports, the bomber stood next to a group of mothers standing with their babies in strollers and detonated a large bomb strapped to his body. The explosion hurled body parts down the street and resounded throughout the downtown area.

• In a second Palestinian attack less than 12 hours later, 10 Israelis were killed Sunday in the West Bank by a lone sniper. Four other Israelis were wounded when the gunman opened fire from a nearby hilltop on soldiers and civilians at an Israeli army roadblock near the West Bank settlements of Ateret and Ofra, both located near Ramallah. The gunman later fled, leaving behind an aging, single-shot rifle held together by nails.

• In more violence Sunday, an Israeli soldier was killed and four others wounded in a shooting attack near the Kissufim Crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip.

• In yet another incident, an Israeli police officer was murdered in the Judean Desert. The body of Moshe Dayan, a 46-year-old resident of Ma’aleh Adumim, was found Saturday night near the settlement of Kedar.

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