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Israeli Attacks Continue in West Bank, Gaza Strip - 2002-02-21

The Israeli military is continuing to launch attacks against Palestinian targets in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in retaliation for the killing of six soldiers earlier this week. At least six Palestinians have been killed Thursday and 23 have died in the latest upsurge in violence.

From the air, sea and land Israeli forces are continuing to pound Palestinian targets and for the second day in a row have fired missiles at the headquarters of Chairman Yasser Arafat in Ramallah.

The Palestinian leader, who has been under virtual house arrest since early December, was not hurt in the air strike and no injuries were reported.

After the attack Mr. Arafat was defiant, saying the Palestinians are a "mighty people" and will never bow to Israeli pressure.

The sounds of explosions and heavy gunfire could be heard in the Gaza Strip where five Palestinians were killed.

Israeli troops backed by tanks launched a raid into the Brazil refugee camp. Israeli soldiers also blew up a Palestinian broadcasting station and a transmission tower. Palestinians used loudspeakers in mosques to urge local gunmen to confront the Israelis.

In the West Bank Israeli soldiers shot and killed a Palestinian gunman who opened fire at a checkpoint. Two soldiers were wounded in the attack.

As the heavy fighting continued, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was expected to address the nation later Thursday to discuss the conflict with the Palestinians.

Speaking in Jerusalem to Jewish representatives from organizations in the United States, Mr. Sharon called Mr. Arafat an obstacle to peace. Mr. Sharon says a new Palestinian leadership will emerge only if the pressure on Mr. Arafat continues. "The heavier the pressure will be the shorter the time will be until maybe we will have somebody else to negotiate with. It may take a long time. But he [Arafat] made himself irrelevant and that is the situation," Israeli Prime Minister said.

The massive Israeli strikes follow the killing of six soldiers in an ambush by Palestinian gunmen earlier this week.

Palestinian militants say the ambush reflects a new strategy of focusing on soldiers and Jewish settlers in the West Bank and Gaza instead of launching attacks inside Israel. Israeli officials say the Jewish state is changing its tactics to battle what it now sees as a guerrilla war.