Israeli Troops Take Over Hebron, Tanks Roll Into Gaza

Israeli helicopters and tanks hit Gaza City early Monday, targeting a main Palestinian security compound, while hundreds of miles away, security guards foiled an attempt to hijack an Israeli passenger plane.

Despite all the violence and a sudden, bitter Israeli election campaign, negotiations continue over a U.S.-backed plan to put an end to the Mideast conflict, according to a document obtained by The Associated Press.

In Gaza City, Israeli helicopters fired missiles at the headquarters of Preventive Security, the main official Palestinian force, and tanks and soldiers moved in, shelling buildings and setting fires. Two Palestinian security officers and a TV cameraman working for Reuters news agency were lightly injured, doctors said. No other casualties were reported.

The Israeli forces pulled out after more than three hours, leaving several of the 11 buildings in the security compound in ruins. At the main administration building, targeted for the first time in two years of fighting, furniture was smashed and computers destroyed, their parts littering the floor as firefighters fought a blaze nearby.

As tanks moved into the city, Israeli gunboats opened fire on the shoreline, shelling the area where Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's office was. The complex was destroyed in an Israeli attack several months ago.

Apartment buildings and a hospital also came under fire.

The sounds of explosions could be heard all over the city of about 300,000 Palestinians. Witnesses said troops fired shells at the house of Yusuf Mukdad, a Preventive Security officer arrested recently by the Israelis on suspicion of planning attacks against Israelis.

Mustafa Mughrabi, 45, who lives near the Preventive Security base, told The Associated Press by telephone that he was hiding under a bed with his children after gunfire hit his house from three directions. Outside, he said he heard "the sound of explosions mixed with screams of children."

Palestinian official Tayeb Abdel Rahim lives about 100 yards from the targeted base. He told the AP that his house was hit by bullets but he was not harmed. He called the Israeli operation "aggression" and warned that "security and stability for Israeli people cannot be achieved at the expense of the Palestinian people."

So far Gaza has been spared the large-scale military operations in which Israel has taken control of most West Bank Palestinian population centers, retaliation for bloody terror attacks. However, Israeli leaders have said that militant groups operate unfettered in Gaza, and the Israeli military would confront them at some point.

Meanwhile, Turkish police were interrogating a passenger who officials say tried to hijack an El Al Israel Airlines plane just before it landed in Istanbul with 170 people on board. El Al general manager Amos Shapira told the AP that the passenger, an Israeli Arab, "tried to reach the cockpit with what we assume now is a small pocket knife," but was overpowered by security guards.

The Israeli airline is known for its stringent security. Though it is frequently targeted, the last successful attack was decades ago. Shapira said airport authorities would investigate how the passenger managed to board the plane with a knife.

Though serious incidents of violence were occurring every day, and Israel was at the beginning of a fierce campaign toward a general election on Jan. 28, diplomats continued work on a document aimed at negotiating a settlement to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

The "road map," promoted by President Bush, calls for a three-phase, three-year program that would result in a Palestinian state living in peace beside Israel.

The latest draft, obtained by the AP, contains some answers to Palestinian concerns, including a softening of a demand to name a prime minister to relieve Arafat of some of his duties. Israel has said the plan must be shelved until after its election and formation of a new government.

The so-called "Quartet," working for Mideast peace, is aiming for a mid-December conference at which the final draft of the plan would be presented. The quartet is made up of the United States, European Union, Russia and the United Nations.

On Sunday, Israelis buried most of the 12 soldiers and security guards killed in a Palestinian ambush in Hebron on Friday night, as Israeli troops and tanks fanned out through the West Bank city.

The soldiers were guarding Jewish worshippers returning on foot from Hebron to the nearby settlement of Kiryat Arba.

The Palestinian attack provoked widespread outrage. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was quoted by local media as calling for a continuous stretch of Israeli settlements from Kiryat Arba to the hotly disputed holy site at Hebron's center, a move that could mean uprooting many Palestinians. Sharon's advisers would not comment, but another Cabinet minister echoed the call.

At a Cabinet meeting Sunday, Sharon and Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu again disagreed on the issue of exiling Arafat. Netanyahu renewed his call for expelling the Palestinian leader, while Sharon again rejected the proposal, as he has several times in the past.

"Arafat himself is often engaged in financing and launching the terrorism," Netanyahu told a news conference. "If any of us still clings to the illusion that we can deliver the task of protecting Israeli lives to the Palestinian Authority, this is an illusion."

Other Cabinet hard-liners are also urging Sharon to take stronger action. But Sharon has argued that he must weigh such factors as the U.S. desire to keep a lid on regional tensions as it works to build Arab support for a possible war against Iraq.