Palestinian terror attacks continue throughout Israel

JERUSALEM — Despite Israel's anti-terror operations in the West Bank, Palestinians continue to carry out attacks on a near-daily basis.

This week, there were several terror attacks as well as several others that Israeli forces thwarted:

* In Herzliya on Tuesday, a 15-year-old girl was killed and more than 20 people injured after a suicide bomber struck outside a falafel stand in the Israeli coastal city of Herzliya.

* In an attack near Hebron earlier Tuesday, three Israeli teens were wounded in a roadside bombing. The bomb exploded as dozens of students who had been picking cherries left a field near the settlement of Kiryat Arba and headed toward their bus. The three youths sustained moderate to serious wounds.

* On Wednesday, Israel thwarted a large terrorist attack in the Gaza Strip. Israeli soldiers spotted seven armed Palestinians approaching the Jewish settlement of Netzarim and opened fire, killing four of them. The remaining three fled, including one who later died of his injuries, Palestinian sources said.

* Also on Wednesday, Israeli troops fired on a car containing a 330-pound bomb near the Alei Sinai settlement. Three Palestinians in the car fled as the car burst into flames.

* In the West Bank on Wednesday, Israeli forces operating in the Tulkarm area arrested a Palestinian suspected of planning a suicide bombing.

* Over the weekend, three Israelis were killed and nine wounded in Palestinian shooting attacks on two West Bank settlements. In the Gaza Strip, another terror attack was thwarted by Israeli troops who spotted two armed Palestinians swimming toward shore.

The attacks came as the Palestinian Authority unveiled some promised reforms.

But Israeli officials were apparently far from impressed: Less than a day after the reforms were announced, Israeli forces moved into Ramallah on Monday and surrounded Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat's headquarters.

The army ordered a curfew over several neighborhoods and arrested about 20 suspected terrorists. During Monday's operation, a Palestinian police official was killed and two Israeli soldiers were lightly wounded during clashes.

The military denied reports that it had entered Arafat's headquarters, saying it had encircled the compound to prevent terrorists from taking shelter there, as they did during Operation Protective Wall this spring.

A day later, the army carried out more search-and-arrest operations in Ramallah and Tulkarm.

In Ramallah, the soldiers imposed a curfew and arrested nine suspected Palestinian terrorists. Troops discovered 21 cars stolen recently in Israel, including three that had been packed with explosives, Army Radio reported.

In the Gaza Strip, the body of a Palestinian man was found Tuesday near the security fence with Israel. He was killed when a bomb he was trying to plant detonated prematurely, the army said.

The Palestinian reforms were announced after Arafat came under growing internal and international pressure to implement changes in his government, which even Palestinian officials have charged is rife with corruption.

On Sunday, Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo announced that the Cabinet would be reduced from 31 to 21 ministers.

Rabbo also announced the appointment of an interior minister, Abdel Razak Yehiyeh, to oversee the Palestinian security services. Israeli officials, however, downplayed the changes.

"If we see fundamental change in the behavior of the Palestinian security forces in which they intercept the attacks against Israel and not collaborate with them, we'll know that something big has occurred," Dore Gold, a senior adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, was quoted as saying Sunday.

Sharon, who met Monday with President Bush at the White House, repeatedly has said there can be no meaningful Palestinian reforms as long as Arafat remains in power.

Addressing reporters while meeting with Sharon at the White House, Bush spoke out in defense of Israel and reiterated his criticism of Arafat.

"Israel has a right to defend herself," Bush said when asked if Israeli military operations in the West Bank were hurting the chances for peace.

Along with defending the Israeli military, Bush reiterated his disappointment with Arafat's leadership.

The preconditions for an Israeli-Palestinian peace conference are not in place, he said, because "no one has confidence in the emerging Palestinian government."

Later, however, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer clarified that Bush believed diplomatic talks should proceed simultaneously with Palestinian reform. Sharon has sought to make reform a precondition for talks.

Israeli commentators had predicted that Sharon would find a receptive audience in Bush.

The prediction was based on comments Bush made Saturday, when he rebuffed an attempt by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to have the United States set a timetable for the creation of a Palestinian state.

After meeting with Mubarak, Bush said the United States is "not ready to lay down a specific calendar" for the creation of a Palestinian state, but added that the two sides have to resume negotiations "quickly, so we can seize the moment."

For his part, Mubarak said he does not "think that violence will come to an end unless the people feel that there is hope for peace and there is something to show that peace is coming."

Last Friday, Bush said he would speak about the next steps toward Middle East peace after the meetings with Mubarak and Sharon.

On Saturday, three Israelis were killed and nine others wounded in Palestinian attacks on two West Bank settlements.

Two Palestinian gunmen infiltrated the settlement of Karmei Tzur in the Etzion bloc early Saturday, murdering Eyal Sorek and his wife, Yael, who was nine months pregnant.

Also killed was Staff Sgt. Maj. Shalom Mordechai, 35, of Nahariya, who died of wounds sustained during a subsequent clash with the gunmen. Two other residents of the settlement and three soldiers were wounded during the exchange of fire.

One of the gunmen was killed and another escaped toward Halhoul, north of Hebron. Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack.

In another incident later Saturday, four Israelis were wounded, two seriously, by Palestinian fire on the settlement of Yitzhar near Nablus. One Palestinian gunman was killed by Israeli fire.

In northern Gaza, an attack was thwarted last Friday when Israeli troops spotted two Palestinians swimming near the shore next to the settlement of Dugit.

In another development over last weekend, Israeli troops discovered traces of explosives in a Palestinian ambulance.

The driver was held for questioning after the discovery at the Erez Crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip, Israel Radio reported.

Israeli officials repeatedly have charged that Palestinian terrorists have operated under cover of Red Crescent ambulances, a violation of international treaties.