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Palestinian Leader Escapes Missile Attack - 2001-08-04

A leader of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction narrowly escaped with his life Saturday when the Israeli military fired missiles at his car. Israeli soldiers fired missiles at a convoy of cars, including one carrying Fatah leader Marwan Barghouthi, in the West Bank town of Ramallah. Mr. Barghouthi said the rockets were fired at two cars, but did not hit his vehicle.

The missiles were apparently fired from the nearby Jewish settlement of Psagot.

Palestinians say the first rocket hit the road near the convoy, allowing Mr. Barghouthi's bodyguard and another Fatah activist to escape. A second missile destroyed their car, reducing it to a frame of charred rubble. Palestinian officials called the incident an "assassination attempt."

Mr. Barghouthi has played a key role in the Palestinian "intifada," or uprising, against Israeli occupation that erupted more than 10 months ago. Mr. Barghouthi called the attack an attempt to "silence the fires of the intifada." Mr. Barghouti said another Fatah activist wanted by Israel, Mohammed Abu Halaweh, was riding in the car that was destroyed.

"I think this is a very dangerous escalation from the Israelis. This is a new crime," Mr. Barghouthi said. "After days of the biggest crime which happened in Nablus. This will not stop the intifada. This will increase the intifada and increase and escalate the resistance against the Israelis. I think this crime which happened in front of my office, the Fatah office, failed and this is a big achievement for the intifada."

Earlier this week, Israeli combat helicopters attacked the offices of the Islamic militant group Hamas in the West Bank town of Nablus. Six Hamas members were killed, including two senior officials. Two young boys also were killed in the assault.

The Israeli military has carried out repeated attacks against suspected Palestinian militants since the fighting began last September. Israel says it targets Palestinians who have carried out or planned terrorist attacks against Israelis.

The raids have provoked outrage among the Palestinians and have been condemned by the United States, members of the European Union and other countries.

Earlier in the Gaza Strip, Palestinians say Israeli tanks and bulldozers destroyed a police post. The action came after Palestinians fired mortars at the Jewish settlement of Kfar Darom, slightly injuring an Israeli man and his son.