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Israel Responds Quickly to New Palestinian Shooting Attacks - 2002-02-10

Palestinian gunmen who killed two Israeli women soldiers in a shooting attack near an army base in southern Israel have been shot dead by bystanders. The Hamas militant group claimed responsibility. In response, Israeli airplanes fired missiles at a Palestinian security building in the Gaza Strip

Police said two Palestinians climbed out of a car in the southern Israeli town of Beersheba and sprayed bullets at a café near an army base. At least 18 people were injured. One woman was killed instantly and a second women died later of wounds sustained in the attack.

Witnesses to the shooting, including several soldiers, charged the gunmen and opened fire. They killed one of the militants and chased the other into a parking lot, where soldiers shot him dead. One of the Palestinians wore an explosive belt which sappers later detonated, according to police. For hours, helicopters hovered overhead, searching for a third man, but police said later that only two gunmen were involved.

Palestinians also fired missiles from Gaza into Israel but no one was wounded. Israeli officials described the missiles as the most advanced Palestinians have used in 16-months of fighting.

It took Israel just a few hours to respond. Warplanes struck the Gaza Strip, firing missiles at a large security base, according to Israeli and Palestinian reports. Palestinians said at least 10 people were wounded in the strike.

The latest violence came as Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon wrapped up a three-day visit to the United States.

At the airport on his return to Israel, Mr. Sharon said Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat is to blame for the violence. Israel says Mr. Arafat is doing nothing to prevent militant groups from staging attacks on the Jewish state.

While in Washington, Mr. Sharon asked President George W. Bush to put more pressure on Mr. Arafat. According to Israeli reports, he failed to persuade the White House to cut off ties with the Palestinian leader.

President Bush has been severely critical of Mr. Arafat since Israel last month captured a ship full of weapons it said were bound for the Gaza Strip. Israel says the Palestinians bought the weapons from Iran.