JERUSALEM — A Palestinian gunman drove into the heart of Tel Aviv at midday Sunday and shot into throngs of soldiers pouring out of the Defense Ministry on their way to lunch, injuring 10 people before he himself was shot and mortally wounded.
The brazen attack on the nerve center of Israel's military establishment was quickly followed by a deadly Israeli helicopter missile strike against Amr Mansour Habiri, a 23-year-old militant with the Hamas Islamic movement. Habiri's car was incinerated by the missiles that smashed into it as he was driving in the northern West Bank town of Tulkarm in the late afternoon. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon alleged that Habiri was on his way to deliver explosives to would-be suicide bombers.
There seemed no end in sight to the accelerating violence that has brought Israel and the Palestinian Authority to the brink of war and raised fears of a regional conflict. If anything, the lone gunman's attack on the Defense Ministry and Israel's continued policy of "targeted killings" in the face of international criticism underscored how few red lines remain after 10 months of fighting and more than 600 deaths.
Interviewed on "Fox News Sunday," Sharon rejected the Palestinian Authority's call for international observers to be dispatched to the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
"We will not be able to accept international forces or international observers," he said.
The Palestinian Authority insists that only an observer force can bring about a real cease-fire, but Israeli officials say they fear such a force would be biased against Israel and would hamper the army's freedom of movement in the West Bank and Gaza.
Some security analysts said Sunday's attack outside the Defense Ministry was amateurish and ineffective and proved that Israel's policy of hunting down Palestinian militants is taking a toll on the ability of factions to strike at Israel.
But others said the attack, combined with the attempted bombing of Tel Aviv's central bus station Friday by a 23-year-old mother of two, provided evidence that Israel's policies of blockading towns and killing leading activists have so inflamed Palestinian public opinion that even ordinary people are willing to carry out violence.
"It is scary," said Reuven Pedatzur, a security affairs analyst for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. "For every militant you kill, another 10 people are ready to carry out attacks. The frustration among Palestinians is so bad that even people who have a family, who are educated, say, 'We have nothing to lose.' "
Israel Television identified the Defense Ministry shooter as a 30-year-old painter from a refugee camp north of Jerusalem. Married and the father of three, he had no previous record of attacking Israelis. Palestinians said his name was Ali Julani. He apparently had an Israeli identity card and was driving a black sedan with yellow Israeli license plates that allowed him to proceed undetected into downtown Tel Aviv.
There, outside the massive Defense Ministry complex known as the Kirya, he pulled out of traffic, got out of his car and aimed an M-16 automatic rifle at the sidewalk crowded with soldiers and passersby. He shot six men and two women in uniform, a foreign worker and an Israeli student before jumping back into the car and driving off. He was pursued by a soldier and a policeman who shot him in the chest, causing the car to crash into a light post.
The gunman and his victims were taken to a nearby hospital, where the assailant died of his wounds. The others were in moderate to good condition Sunday night.
"I looked straight ahead of me and I saw a terrorist shooting," Pvt. Claire Hirschberg, one of the injured soldiers, said in an interview with Israel Radio. "He did it with the utmost calmness, with a cigarette in his mouth--he just shot at people. He looked into my eyes; he looked into my eyes and shot."
Speaking to Israel Television reporters, Sharon said the gunman was not known to be affiliated with any Palestinian faction. The prime minister blamed what he termed "the unprecedented incitement of the Palestinian media" for driving the man to target Israeli soldiers.
But in an interview with a Persian Gulf television station, Israeli Arab lawmaker Taleb Sanaa described the attack as a legitimate form of resistance because it was aimed at soldiers.
The violence continued Sunday night with a drive-by shooting attack on a carload of Israelis outside the West Bank settlement of Alfei Menashe. A spokesman for the Yesha Council, the umbrella group representing Jewish settlers in the West Bank and Gaza, said the car was carrying a family of settlers and that a female passenger was killed and three other people wounded. Other reports said a fourth person was hurt. Israel Radio reported that the slain woman was a pregnant mother of five.
In another shooting incident, in Tulkarm, where Habiri was killed, Palestinians said Israeli troops shot another Palestinian to death Sunday. The army said he was killed while trying to plant a bomb.
For the first time Sunday, the army also published a list of Palestinians it said are "the main terrorists whom Israel wants arrested" by the Palestinian Authority. The authority has repeatedly refused such demands. Israeli security officials have said that unless the men are arrested, Israel will capture or kill them itself.