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Sharon Responds to Hamas Rocket Attacks

LIANE HANSEN, host:

Clashes between Israel and the Palestinians broke out late this past week and this weekend less than two weeks after Israel completed its withdrawal from Gaza. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon today ordered the army to use all means to end Palestinian rocket attacks, and Israel fired artillery at open areas in Gaza. NPR's Linda Gradstein reports.

LINDA GRADSTEIN reporting:

The artillery fire was the first from Israel into Gaza since the Israeli withdrawal, and military officials say it was strictly to calibrate their weapons in order to adjust the aim. Overnight, Israeli troops arrested more than 200 suspected members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the West Bank, including a senior spiritual leader of Hamas, Sheikh Hassan Yousef(ph).

The clashes began early Friday when Israeli troops shot and killed three members of the Islamic Jihad movement during an arrest raid near the West Bank town of Tulkarem. Islamic Jihad responded with Qassam rockets fired at the southern Israeli town of Siderot. Friday night and Saturday, the Qassam barrage continued with more than 40 rockets landing in southern Israel, wounding five Israelis. Residents were told to spend the weekend in bomb shelters, and schools were closed today.

Yesterday, the Israeli Cabinet, in an emergency session, authorized the renewed use of targeted assassinations, and Israel launched a series of air strikes at Hamas and Islamic Jihad targets in Gaza. Two Hamas militants were killed in one Israeli air strike and more than two dozen Palestinians were wounded, among them women and children. The Israeli strikes came a day after at least 15 Palestinians were killed at a Hamas rally in Gaza when loaded rockets exploded. Both Israel and the Palestinian Authority said the explosion was an accident triggered by Hamas men carrying explosives, but Hamas blamed Israel.

Before the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, Israeli officials had warned they would not tolerate Hamas rocket attacks. In authorizing today's artillery fire, Prime Minister Sharon told the Cabinet that Israel had embarked on an ongoing operation whose aim is to hit terrorists and that all means are fit for this. Palestinian officials have appealed to the US to intervene to calm the situation down. Linda Gradstein, NPR News, Jerusalem.

HANSEN: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Linda Gradstein
Linda Gradstein has been the Israel correspondent for NPR since 1990. She is a member of the team that received the Overseas Press Club award for her coverage of the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the team that received Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia University Award for Excellence in Broadcast Journalism for her coverage of the Gulf War. Linda spent 1998-9 as a Knight Journalist Fellow at Stanford University.