Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon pledged his government would use as much military might as necessary against Palestinians despite scathing criticism on Sunday for using F-16 jets in retaliation for a suicide bombing.
In fresh violence, a Palestinian sniper shot an Israeli soldier guarding a Jewish settlement near Ramallah in the stomach, and a gunbattle erupted, the Israeli army said.
Hospitals said five Palestinian civilians were wounded.
“We will do everything necessary and use everything we have to protect Israeli citizens,” Sharon was quoted as saying in an interview with Israel’s largest daily, Yedioth Ahronoth.
Six people, including a suicide bomber from the militant Hamas movement, were killed in the explosion at a shopping mall in the seaside Israeli city of Netanya on Friday.
Hours later, Israeli F-16 fighter-bombers struck Palestinian security compounds in the West Bank and Gaza, killing at least 12 Palestinian policemen and raising Israeli retaliation to a new level in a nearly eight-month-old uprising for independence.
The Palestinian Authority called the Israeli attacks a “serious escalation” and urged the international community and the United States to intervene immediately.
In an interview with NBC, U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney was asked whether Israel should stop using F-16s. “Yeah, I think they should stop, both sides should stop and think about where they are headed here,” he responded.
Echoing commentary in other Israeli dailies, Yedioth Ahronoth called the decision to unleash the U.S. built F-16s in the West Bank for the first time since the 1967 Middle East war “pointless” and “stupid”.
Army general Giora Eiland said Israel would not deploy F-16s regularly. “We see it as something that will not be used very often,” he said, adding it was done for “tactical” reasons as they provided “the best ammunition” against the targets.
Arab foreign ministers, meeting in Egypt on Saturday, called for the suspension of political contacts with Israel until it halted its military assaults against the Palestinians. They did not call for an outright break in diplomatic ties.
Addressing his security cabinet, Sharon said Israel faced “a lengthy campaign requiring determination and perseverance” — and pointedly offered “special thanks” to the air force.
The fighting brought new calls for an end to the violence and heightening of a security alert in Israel, where police on the watch for more suicide bombers set up roadblocks that caused traffic jams at the start of the Israeli work week on Sunday.
“I…call on behalf of the United States for all leaders in the region to…do everything in their power immediately to bring into being an unconditional cessation of violence,” U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said in Washington.