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Fears Multiply Along With Mideast Violence

Intifada: An attack on a Gaza police compound and a beer-can bomb in a Jerusalem supermarket are but two alarm signs.

July 31, 2001|TRACY WILKINSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

JERUSALEM — Israeli combat helicopters pounded Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's police headquarters in Gaza City on Monday while Jerusalem cranked into a red-hot alert over warnings of terrorist bombings.

A jittery sense of dread gripped much of Israel and the Palestinian territories as more Arabs and Jews died or were injured in violence that threatened to escalate beyond the ability of international diplomacy to rein it in.

A bomb in a beer can detonated in a supermarket on Jerusalem's most crowded downtown street, an Orthodox Jew was stabbed and nearly killed in the Old City, and six Palestinians died in a fiery blast that was either an Israeli hit or an accidentally discharged explosive. Three Israeli border police officers were wounded, two seriously, in a shooting as they drove in the West Bank.

In Gaza, Israeli gunships fired three or four missiles into the Palestinian Authority president's police headquarters to destroy what the Israeli army said was a weapons factory, the second to be targeted in about 48 hours. Palestinian militants have lobbed scores of mortar shells at Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip, and Israeli officials say many are fabricated in Gazan factories. A 9-year-old Jewish girl was injured Monday in one such attack.

The midday airstrike destroyed a barracks for police cadets. The police compound--where Israelis say the munitions workshop was located--sits a block or two from Gaza City's main downtown Plaza of the Unknown Soldier and legislative building, and about four blocks from Arafat's official and residential headquarters.

Four policemen were slightly wounded, including two who were injured when they jumped from the second floor. The compound also houses the main offices of Police Chief Ghazi Jabali, a top security official and a close aide to Arafat who has long been accused by Israelis of ordering armed attacks against Jews.

Jabali was indignant at the attack.

"This is not a factory for weapons. This is not a factory for mortars. This is a factory for policemen who safeguard the Palestinian citizens," Jabali said as he pointed out sinks and toilets splintered by the bombardment.

Israeli military officials recently disclosed the capture of a Palestinian activist who they said implicated Jabali in overseeing the making of mortars. Jabali denied the charge.

In Jerusalem, Israel's top domestic security chief, Avi Dichter, warned a Cabinet meeting of an escalation in Palestinian attacks. Police were flooded with bomb scares.

The Maccabee-brand beer-can bomb sent beer spewing throughout the supermarket on downtown King George Street and caused some damage, but no one was hurt. On Sunday, a car bomb exploded in the underground parking garage of a Jewish-occupied apartment building. Injuries were minor, but nerves are frayed, and Israelis expect a major terrorist bombing at any moment.

"There is a concentrated effort to drag Jerusalem into the cycle of violence," said the city's police chief, Miki Levy.

The sound of sirens punctuated the day as Israeli police, deployed in Jerusalem from all over the country, rushed from one potential blast site to another.

An explosion in East Jerusalem created a panic--until everyone realized that an aerosol can inside a car had burst in the heat.

In a West Bank village near Nablus, an explosion early Monday ripped through an auto parts warehouse, killing six members of Arafat's Fatah movement. Israelis and Palestinians traded blame over the deaths: Palestinian officials said the men were killed in another of Israel's "assassinations" of militants, while Israel denied involvement and blamed the deaths on the men's inept handling of explosives.

"No place is safe for us," Marwan Barghouti, a West Bank leader of the Fatah militias who have attacked Israelis, told an Arabic television station. "They attack us everywhere--in our homes, in telephone booths, in our cars."

But Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Dalia Rabin-Pelossof, daughter of slain Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, said the men were killed by a bomb they were preparing.

"Attackers who are trying to activate explosive devices . . . recently have been making many mistakes . . . and they pay with their lives for it," she told Israel's Army Radio.

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