|World reacts to Israeli attacks
Russia condemned Thursday the latest wave of Israeli violence and warned that the conflict threatened to spill over across the whole of the Middle East.
The Russian foreign ministry expressed its "deep concern" at Israel's decision to stage air strikes against Palestinian positions in retaliation for a spate of bomb attacks.
"Of course, we can never justify terrorism, which leads to the death of innocent people and undermines the Palestinian-Israeli peace process," Moscow said in reference to the suicide bombings and the killing of a 10-month-old Israeli baby.
Russia has been a traditional ally of Arab states in the Middle East, although its influence in the region has significantly waned.
"However, the use of mass force against Palestinian terrorists threatens to cross a dangerous line beyond which political dialogue is impossible," said the statement.
Moscow is a co-sponsor of the Middle East peace process and has recently made efforts to boost its presence at the negotiating table.
Meanwhile, the United States apparently gave its approval for the Israeli strikes, calling the move understandable.
"We understand the Israeli frustration and need to do what they see is necessary for their security," the official told AFP after the Israelis pounded Palestinian positions in retaliation for three deadly anti-Israeli attacks in the past two days.
"But we have said they need to consider carefully the effect of the their response and whether or not they risk inciting yet another cycle of reaction and counter-reaction," the official said.
The official refused to specifically condemn the air strikes, but urged both sides to stop the violence, which since flaring up last September has left some 450 people dead, most of them Palestinians.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres informed US Secretary of State Colin Powell in a phone call of the strikes just as they got underway.
At the time of the call, Powell was having lunch with Vice President Richard Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, several US officials said.
Meanwhile, during a routine press briefing, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher also defiantly rejected criticism of Washington's veto of a UN resolution to send an observer force to the Palestinian territories, offering unapologetic support for its close ties with Israel.
"We have no apology for our relationship with Israel, we have no regrets about our relationship with Israel," Boucher said when asked about Washington's veto late Tuesday in the UN Security Council.
GAZA CITY, March 29 - Israeli tanks fired shells at Arab neighborhoods in Hebron and Gaza late Wednesday and Thursday as tensions continued to run high over the recent spate of attacks against the Jewish state.
Israeli tanks fired at empty houses in the Abu Sneinah neighborhood, which overlooks the Jewish enclave in the divided city where a 10-month-old baby was killed on Monday, AFP reporters said. It was not immediately clear if there were any injuries.
Meanwhile, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat flew to Ramallah in the West Bank Thursday after meeting here with his top aides to assess the flare-up of violence in the Palestinian territories, Palestinian diplomats told Western news agencies.
Jewish extremists go on rampage
Palestinian witnesses reported that a Palestinian shop near the Jewish quarter in the Israeli-controlled sector of Hebron had been torched by Jewish settlers.
The settlers have gone on the rampage in Hebron and Abu Sneinah, thought to be the source of Monday's fatal shots.
On Tuesday night, witnesses said a band of settlers torched seven cars and at least five Palestinian shops and shot at a fire truck at the entrance to Abu Sneinah.
Hebron is a flashpoint of frequent violence, where some 400 extremist settlers live with army protection in the center of the Palestinian city.
Palestinians warn Israel to stay out of self-ruled areas
A day after Israeli helicopters pounded bases of Arafat's Force 17 protection unit, a Palestinian official on Thursday threatened attacks inside Israel if the Israeli army enters areas under Palestinian self-rule.
"Every point in Israel will become a legitimate target for our fighters if Israel attacks our cities," Ahmed Helis, secretary general of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction, said in a speech in Gaza City.
He warned the army against any move "to enter the Palestinian territories."
General Abdelrazek al-Majaida, the head of Palestinian public security for the Gaza Strip, accused the Israeli army "of preparing to launch a major offensive against the Palestinian territories."
Arafat says intifada will continue
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat proclaimed Thursday that the Palestinian uprising will continue until the Palestinian flag flies over Jerusalem, "capital of the future Palestinian state.
"The Palestinian people will continue with force and determination until the Palestinian flag is raised above the walls, mosques and churches of Jerusalem, the capital of the future Palestinian state, whether (people) like it or not," Arafat said in Ramallah on his return from a two-day Arab summit in Jordan.
He also condemned the Israeli strikes the day before on his Force 17 bodyguard, saying they were "neither the first confrontation, nor the first war nor the first escalation.
"But, I tell you that not the blockade, not the uranium shells, not the other banned weapons, not the bombings of our bases and houses can hinder our people's determination," Arafat sa,id.
He said the "Israeli aggression" was "the beginning of the 100-day Sharon plan."
Palestinians have often charged that accused war criminal Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has mapped out a plan to crack down against the six-month-old intifada.
Asked by reporters about Sharon's remarks branding him a "terrorist," Arafat responded: "Ask Sabra and Shatila."
He was alluding to the two Palestinian refugee camps near Beirut where hundreds were massacred by Lebanese Christian militias in 1982 during Israel's invasion of Lebanon, during which Sharon was defense minister. Sharon ordered the Israeli soldiers to seal the camp while the militias slaughtered innocent civilians.
Separately, Palestinian parliament speaker Ahmed Qorei visited a Force 17 base in Ramallah targeted in the raids and said "this aggression will not prevent us from continuing our struggle to reach our ends."
"Only Israel will assume the results of this aggression. The threats don't scare us," said Qorei, a longtime negotiator with Israel.
Hamas tells Palestinians to take up arms
The Palestinian movement Hamas called Thursday on Arab and Muslims to take action to stop Israeli terrorism against the Palestinians.
"The Arab and Muslim world is called upon to assume its responsibilities in working for our people's freedom and facing Israeli aggression and terrorism," the Islamist movement said in a statement.
Hamas said the Israeli helicopter raids Wednesday night against bases of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Force 17 bodyguard unit were a "prelude to a despicable war that (Israeli Prime Minister Ariel) Sharon and his terrorist clique are preparing against our defenseless people."
The armed branch of Hamas had claimed responsibility for the most recent one, a suicide attack Wednesday morning that killed two Israeli teenagers on their way to religious school.
Hamas said the Israeli raids "cannot break our people's determination to fight" the Jewish state and called on the Palestinians "to stay united to face the dangerous challenge launched by Zionist terrorism."
Hamas, which opposes any negotiations with Israel, has been behind most of the anti-Israeli attacks since Arafat signed the 1993 Oslo peace accords with Israel.
AFP contributed to this report.