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Arafat urges end to madness

Ramallah (West Bank), Oct. 21 (Reuters): President Yasser Arafat demanded immediate international action today “to stop this military madness” after Israel killed 10 Palestinians, most of them civilians, in air strikes in the Gaza Strip.

Israel’s army, echoing Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said there would be no let-up in its hunt for Islamic militants despite the civilian deaths, which drew unusually tough criticism in Israel and opposition calls for an investigation.

The five air strikes yesterday, which also wounded about 100 people, and a Palestinian ambush that killed three Israeli soldiers on Sunday dealt further blows to a stalled US-backed peace “road map”. Arafat said world leaders, including a “Quartet” of powers trying to secure a peace agreement, should “immediately intervene to stop this military madness in which they aim to destroy the Holy Land and this steadfast people”.

He gave no details in brief comments to reporters but has repeatedly called for the international community to send observers or monitors to the region. Israel opposes this.

The “Quartet” groups the US, the UN, the EU and Russia.

Their efforts to end three years of bloodshed since the Palestinians began their uprising against Israel for statehood have bogged down in tit-for-tat violence.

World leaders have criticised Israel’s policy of tracking and killing Palestinian militants, primarily through air strikes, and condemned suicide bombings that the militants have carried out.

FUNERALS, CALLS FOR REVENGE

The bloodiest strike on Monday was at Nusseirat refugee camp, where witnesses said seven civilians were killed and 70 wounded by two missiles. One hit a car and the other slammed into a crowd that gathered nearby shortly afterwards.

Army spokeswoman Ruth Yaron said helicopter gunships had been chasing a carload of militants spotted trying to cross from Gaza into Israel and suspected of planning an attack.

She regretted the deaths of civilians but said the militants had put civilians at risk by taking cover among them.

”As long as this war of terrorism continues against us and our families, we have no choice but to fight Ä with the greatest degree of caution so that as few innocent people as possible are hurt Ä and to hit the terrorists,” she said.

The air raids enraged Palestinians. Many Palestinians stayed home from work in Gaza after a general strike was declared as a sign of respect for the dead, and thousands of people gathered at Nusseirat refugee camp to bury the victims.

Armed activists fired in the air. Some mourners waved the flags of militant groups such as Hamas and called for revenge.

”The Izz el-Deen al-Qassam (military wing of Hamas) vows to turn the life of the Zionists into hell,” one militant said through a loudspeaker.

The United States renewed its advice to U.S. citizens to leave the Gaza Strip and urged them to avoid travel to Israel or the West Bank. A bomb attack against a diplomatic convoy in Gaza killed three U.S. security guards last Wednesday.

Sharon told parliament on Monday the attacks on militants would continue until the Palestinian Authority cracks down on them. Palestinians say that doing so would risk a civil war.

Israeli opposition leader Shimon Peres demanded an investigation into the Nusseirat deaths, saying:“The guilty one is the one who gives the orders to the air force.”

Infrastructure Minister Yosef Paritsky, from the centrist Shinui party, said that when civilians were wounded:“Israel must apologise and find a way to compensate those who were hurt.” (Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi and Gwen Ackerman)

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