| Relatives carry the body of 11-month-old Shmuel Zargari, who was killed in Tuesday’s suicide bombing, during his funeral in Jerusalem. (AFP)
Jerusalem, Aug. 20 (Reuters): Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon approved a series of military strikes against Palestinian militants in response to a suicide bombing that killed 18 people in Jerusalem, a senior security source said today.
The source said the army operations, which could last several days, would go ahead regardless of Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas’ order for security services to arrest militants behind the bombing.
A Hamas bomber disguised as an ultra-Orthodox Jew blew up a bus full of Jewish families returning from prayers at a Jerusalem shrine in an attack claimed as retribution for continued Israeli raids that have killed militants despite the ceasefire. Israeli authorities initially reported 20 dead but reduced the toll to 18, including a baby girl, after checks with a mortuary that took in the bodies. The figure did not include the bomber himself.
Abbas, who also cut off contact with Islamic militant leaders, acted after Israel shelved its planned handover of occupied cities to Palestinian control, froze high-level talks and reimposed a clampdown on the West Bank and Gaza.
The security source said the plan, which was expected to be given the final go-ahead by Sharon’s cabinet, would target the main militant groups with arrests, raids and “targeted killings”.
He said the strikes would hit Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, groups that declared a three-month ceasefire on June 29 under pressure from the reformist Palestinian prime minister to prop up a US-led peace plan.
“Israel will take action as a retaliation against the terror organisations,” the source said.
Hamas claimed responsibility for the bombing last night on a bus filled Jewish families returning from prayers at a Jerusalem shrine.
The White House demanded today that the Palestinian Authority crack down on militant groups and said Israel had the right to defend itself following the bombing in Jerusalem.
US President George W. Bush conveyed that message directly to Sharon in a phone call from his Crawford, Texas, ranch, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said. “The Palestinian authority needs to act to dismantle these terrorist organisations,” he said.
Asked about the possibility that Israel will take military action in response to yesterday’s suicide bus bombing, McClellan said: “Israel has a right to defend itself. This was a vicious attack on innocent civilians yesterday. But it’s important for all the parties to continue talking about the way forward.”
With the troubled “road map” peace plan in jeopardy, Abbas also planned to convene his cabinet to decide on other security measures against Islamic militants which his government has hitherto hesitated to take.
“There are clear instructions (given) to security forces to follow these people, find them, put them under arrest. We have to use our authority to contain this tough situation and to stop the negative developments,” information minister Nabil Amr said in Ramallah, West Bank.