OCCUPIED JERUSALEM (AFP) â€” Israel vowed Tuesday to target the leadership of Islamic Jihad, as victims of a suicide bombing by one of the Palestinian group’s members were laid to rest.
Hours later, Jihad expressed its continuing commitment to a truce agreed in March, and said the bombing was in response to Israeli “crimes.”
While Prime Minister Ariel Sharon convened a meeting of his security Cabinet, police reinforcements were posted along the Green Line separating Israel from the West Bank.
New checkpoints also sprang up around the entrances to major Israeli commercial centres and highways.
The army announced Monday night that a general closure was being imposed on both the West Bank and Gaza Strip shortly due to the attack in the northern coastal town of Netanya, the first suicide bombing since October.
Five Israelis were killed and dozens wounded in the attack at the entrance to a shopping mall.
Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz has given his go-ahead to the resumption of targeted killings in the Palestinian territories in response to the attack.
He has also asked for legal approval to renew an army policy of demolishing the family homes of suicide bombers.
A source close to Sharon said the decision to resume targeted killings had been rubber-stamped by the security Cabinet, which also approved plans to target buildings in the Gaza Strip used to launch rocket attacks on Israel.
“We will fire artillery at buildings which are used as launchpads after the local population has received due warning,” said the source.
“We hope we can convince the local population to put pressure on the terrorists to stop the attacks.”
Islamic Jihad has been behind all such bombings since the armed Palestinian factions signed up to a truce in March.
“We have decided to act in a much wider and offensive manner against the infrastructure of Islamic Jihad as we will not yield to terrorism,” Mofaz told army radio.
Amos Gilad, Mofaz’s top adviser, emphasised the army’s determination to target the Jihad leadership. “Our actions will concentrate on Islamic Jihad, eliminating (its leadership) in order to protect human life,” he said.
The radio also reported that the army was poised to launch a largescale operation in the Jenin area of the northern West Bank, considered a stronghold of Jihad and home to the bomber.
The army said it had arrested the father and three brothers of the bomber at their home.
Four other Jihad activists were detained in the same operation while Palestinian security services said they had arrested three Jihad activists in the northern West Bank city of Nablus.
In a statement Tuesday night, Jihad said “we remain committed to the ceasefire declared by Palestinian Islamic and national forces in March,” at a summit of their leaders in Cairo.
It justified Monday’s attack, and another one in the Israeli city of Hadera in October as “responses to crimes perpetrated by the Zionist enemy,” but did not elaborate.
The statement also reproached Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas for condemning the bombing and calling it a “terrorist attack.”
It also called on Abbas, under intense pressure from Israel and the United States to put an end to Palestinian attacks, to stop arresting its members and sympathisers.
Israel said the Netanya attack highlighted the Palestinian Authority’s failure to crack down on armed factions.
Abbas has been reluctant to confront Jihad and the largest Islamist movement, Hamas, which is contesting January’s Palestinian parliamentary elections, for fear of sparking a civil war.
The funerals of four of the victims took place Tuesday, while 19 other people were still in hospital.
The bombing was roundly condemned, with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice calling on the Palestinian Authority “to fight terror and to begin to deal with the terrorist organisations that are in their midst.”
Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom was reported to have told US Ambassador Richard Jones that Syria, which plays host to some of the top Jihad and Hamas leaders, bore part of the responsibility for the attack.
Jones said the United States understood Israel’s need to “defend itself” in the aftermath of the attack.
“Israel has every right to defend its people. That is the primary right of every government … and they have support of