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Israel Targets Palestinian Police Headquarters; Security Talks Continue - 2001-12-07

Israeli, Palestinian and U.S. security officials held talks Friday, despite Israeli air strikes against Palestinian police headquarters in Gaza early Friday morning. The security talks were arranged by U.S. peace envoy Anthony Zinni.

Several hours before the talks were due to begin, Israeli F-16 jets hit Palestinian police headquarters in Gaza. Israel's military says the explosions destroyed the four-story buildings in Gaza City and a mortar factory in the compound there.

The Israeli army says the strikes are aimed against Palestinian Authority elements that support and aid terrorist activity. An Israeli government spokesman told VOA the pre-dawn attack was "another wake-up call" to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

At the same time, Israeli troops arrested at least half a dozen Palestinian men in southern Gaza.

Israel holds Mr. Arafat responsible for not curbing Palestinian extremist attacks against Israelis. Last weekend, suicide bombings in Jerusalem and Haifa killed 25 people.

Yasser Arafat says his forces have detained more than 180 terrorist suspects, and he needs more time to prove he is fighting terrorism. In an interview with Israeli TV, the Palestinian leader says he has arrested 17 men on Israel's list of more than 30 wanted terrorist suspects. He also criticizes the United States for providing the military weapons to Israel that are being used against Palestinian targets.

Mr. Arafat's crackdown on terrorism has sparked civil unrest. When police put the head of the militant group Hamas under house arrest in Gaza on Thursday, they were attacked by Hamas supporters. Hamas has threatened to target the Palestinian Authority, if Sheikh Ahmed Yassin is harmed or remains under house detention.

Earlier this week, Israel's Cabinet described the Palestinian Authority as an entity that supports terrorism. At Friday prayers, the head of Al Aqsa mosque in East Jerusalem described Israeli shelling, army incursions and closures of the West Bank and Gaza as terrorism, too.

An opinion poll published on Friday shows a growing polarization of Israelis and Palestinians, with each side blaming the other for the continuing violence.