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Sharon: Israel Now in 'War on Terrorism' - 2001-12-03

Israel has launched air strikes on Palestinian targets in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in retaliation for suicide attacks inside Israel that killed at least 25 people. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says Israel is now involved in a war on terrorism and he is holding Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat directly responsible.

Israeli helicopters fired missiles that struck sites in the Gaza Strip, including targets inside Chairman Arafat's compound.

Mr. Arafat's helicopters were destroyed on a landing pad in the attack.

Missiles also hit buildings used by members of Mr. Arafat's Force-17 presidential guard. Mr. Arafat was in the West Bank town of Ramallah at the time of the attack.

In the West Bank, Israeli warplanes fired on a police station and Palestinian Authority headquarters in Jenin.

Israeli officials say the air strikes are a message to Mr. Arafat to crackdown on militant groups responsible for launching suicide bombings against Israelis.

Palestinians say they have arrested more than 100 militants since the latest bombings, which killed Israelis in Jerusalem and the port city of Haifa.

In an address to the nation, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Israel is now involved in a "war on terrorism."

The prime minister said Chairman Arafat is responsible for the war, which Mr. Sharon says is intended to drive the Israeli people into "exile."

The prime minister accused Mr. Arafat of trying to achieve political goals through murdering innocent civilians.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat accused Mr. Sharon of declaring war on the Palestinians. "He is saying war, war, war now, peace later. I think he is making the mistake of his life. I don't accept any of the accusations against President Arafat," said Mr. Erekat. "In the last few hours President Arafat declared a state of emergency and committed to pursue those who planned the attacks in Jerusalem and Haifa, which we condemned."

Mr. Erekat called on the United States to intervene before "it is too late."

Israeli government spokesman Dore Gold says Israeli-Palestinian negotiations can resume if the current bloodshed stops, "if Mr. Arafat agrees to stopping the war against Israel which he, himself, has initiated. Erekat may talk about a declaration of war, but what does it mean when you permit, from the areas that you were given control of, Islamic Jihad suicide bombers to go into the heart of Jerusalem, or from the Hamas organization and murder dozens of Israeli teenagers?"

Since the Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation erupted in September of last year, more than 1,000 people, mostly Palestinians, have been killed in the conflict.