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Israel Readies Retaliation in Response to Latest Suicide Bombings - 2003-01-06

Israel is set to take a series of punitive measures against the Palestinians, following Sunday's dual suicide bomb attack in Tel Aviv that killed at least 22 people and injured another 100. The measures have also sparked a dispute between Israel and Britain.

Israel's first response to the suicide bombing was to send its helicopter gunships into the Gaza Strip to fire missiles at two metal workshops Israel says were used to make weapons.

Israel also decided to step up raids against suspected Palestinian militants and further limit the movement of Palestinians.

That means top Palestinian leaders will not be allowed to travel to London for a January 14 meeting to discuss Palestinian reforms, nor will Palestinian lawmakers and political leaders be allowed to travel to the West Bank city of Ramallah to attend the Palestinian Central Council later this week.

Britain's foreign secretary, Jack Straw, spoke with his Israeli counterpart, Benjamin Netanyahu, and asked him to reconsider the decision to bar Palestinian delegates from traveling to London.

According to Mr. Netanyahu's office, he responded by accusing Britain of allowing "terrorists" to attend a conference instead of focusing on fighting terrorism, with both men accusing each other's government of creating a situation unfavorable to peace.

Israel has also decided to shut down three Palestinian colleges it said were used to incite "terrorism."

The punitive measures were decided upon after two Palestinians blew themselves up late Sunday near the old bus station in central Tel Aviv in one of the deadliest attacks since the Palestinian uprising began 27 months ago.

There were initial conflicting claims of responsibility, but a splinter group of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade carried out the attack. The Brigade is linked to Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon blamed the Palestinian leadership for the bombing. The Palestinian Authority, however, condemned the bombing as a "terrorist attack."