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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Israeli Army Strikes Gaza City, Refugee Camp

RAMALLAH, West Bank -- Israeli warplanes and helicopters launched their fiercest air attacks in 14 months of conflict Tuesday, firing one missile near Palestinian President Yasser Arafat's West Bank office while he was inside.

Arafat was not hurt, but a 15-year-old bystander and a policeman were killed in Gaza and dozens were wounded in the largest simultaneous air attacks since the start of a Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation.

Israel launched the assault after one of the most deadly waves of Palestinian suicide bombings inside the Jewish state in years. Israel has directed its fire mainly at security targets or symbols of Arafat's power but has not aimed at him.

Frightened schoolchildren scurried for cover as clouds of black smoke billowed and shrapnel flew in Gaza. Panic-stricken Palestinians pitched several wounded children and their school backpacks into ambulances that screamed away toward hospitals.

Parents, some of them weeping, ran into the streets looking for their children as jets hovered overhead.

Making his first public comments since the Israeli offensive began Monday, Arafat hit back at Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in an interview in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Arafat told CNN television: "He doesn't want a peace process to start."

The decision at a government meeting to attack and brand the Palestinian Authority an organization that supports terror, prompted a walkout by Foreign Minister Shimon Peres' Labor Party, which widened cracks in Sharon's broad coalition.

"I know there are many members of my party who think the time has come to leave the government," Peres said in response to questions from reporters at a conference in Bucharest.

The surge of violence also threatened to wreck a new U.S. Middle East peace drive and harm Washington's chances of winning Arab and Muslim support for future stages of its anti-terror war following the September attacks in the United States.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell waved a flag of caution at Israel, saying it should be aware of the consequences of any action, but stopped short of urging it to stop the attacks.

European Union envoy Miguel Angel Moratinos was more blunt. "Now the big difference is that we are arriving at a terminal situation. If we cannot overcome this crisis we will be entering a totally different scenario," he told Spanish daily El Pais.

Israel began a second day of air strikes after the government's classification of Arafat's Palestinian Authority as a supporter of terrorism paved the way to harsher retaliation, although it announced no plans to topple him.

The militant Islamic group Hamas claimed responsibility for the weekend attacks. But Israel has blamed Arafat for the suicide bombings that killed 25 people and wounded about 200, saying he allows militants to act with impunity.

Israeli missiles struck targets in Gaza City and the Khan Younis refugee camp in southern Gaza, as well as in the West Bank towns of Ramallah, Tulkarm and Qalqilya, witnesses and officials said.

Arafat was in his Ramallah office when one missile slammed into a police building just outside the compound, aides said.

The missile left a gaping hole and policemen sifted through the rubble looking for belongings they had left there.

Palestinians accused Sharon of declaring war and demanded immediate international intervention.

"Sharon's government is exercising terror. They're destroying the peace process and now they're destroying the Palestinian Authority. The world has to stop this Sharon madness immediately," said Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat.

Troops entered three Palestinian towns and took up positions close to Arafat's Ramallah office.

Powell, who sent his new Middle East peace envoy General Anthony Zinni to the region just before the violence erupted, said Arafat could do much more to rein in militants.

But Palestinian officials said the Israeli attacks hampered Arafat's efforts to crack down.

In an address to the nation Monday, Sharon said Arafat was directing a war of terrorism and called him the biggest obstacle to peace.

Israel chose language similar to that used by the United States when it targeted Afghanistan's Taliban rulers to flush out Saudi-born militant Osama bin Laden, its prime suspect for the Sept. 11 attacks.

Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo dismissed the Israeli declaration. "We believe the source of terrorism is the Israeli occupation of our land," he said, referring to Israel's occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip since the 1967 Middle East war.