Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - A leader of a radical PLO faction died Monday when an Israeli helicopter fired a missile at his group's offices. The attack followed a weekend of terror attacks in which seven Israelis were killed and another nine were wounded.
Arab reaction to the Israeli attack was swift and fierce, with some Palestinians blaming the United States for its support of Israel.
Mustafa Zibri, also known as Abu Ali Mustafa, was the highest profile Palestinian militant to be targeted by Israel since the beginning of the 11-month-old uprising (intifada).
Palestinian Authority minister Saeb Erekat accused Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of trying to escalate the violence and said he would be held personally responsible for any Palestinian revenge attacks.
"[Sharon] is inviting the gates of hell to be opened," Erekat said by telephone. "He's crossing all red lines."
Erekat accused the Israeli leader of trying to destroy the PA, first by wiping out its infrastructure and now by killing leaders under the pretext, he said, that some individuals had been "involved in killing Israelis."
Zibri, 63, was secretary-general of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which consistently rejected the PLO's agreements with Israel and any form of negotiated settlement to the conflict.
He was considered right hand man to founder of the Damascus-based organization, George Habash.
Zibri returned to PA-ruled territories in 1999 after Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat promised Israel he would be kept in check.
But according to the Israeli army, that assurance had not been kept. It said in a statement that the PFLP's Ramallah offices attacked Monday had been responsible for dozens of terrorist attacks against Israelis.
The army said the PFLP, headed in Ramallah by Zibri, had been behind a string of car-bombings, most recently in Jerusalem last week. It was also believed to be planning further attacks.
"In recent days, Abu Ali Mustafa, together with other senior members of the PFLP's military wing, prepared for a number of additional bombing attacks, which were supposed to be carried out in the immediate future," the army said.
The strike came less than a day after Sharon, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer decided during an emergency meeting to continue a policy of swift retaliation for attacks and killing identified terror attack planners.
The meeting followed a weekend in which seven Israelis were killed in three separate attacks.
Three soldiers were killed and seven others wounded in an assault by two Palestinian gunmen on an army base in the Gaza Strip overnight Friday. The gunmen were also killed in the attack, which was the first of its kind since Palestinians launched their uprising last September.
The following night a young Israeli couple was killed in a drive-by shooting. A third adult in the car, the brother of the dead woman, died later of injuries. The couple's two infant children were also lightly wounded.
On Sunday, an Israel was shot dead near the border between Israeli and PA controlled territory in the West Bank, apparently as he attempted to carry out a pre-arranged business deal.
In response, Israeli F-15 and F-16 jets and Apache helicopters targeted Palestinian security installations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, demolishing several structures. Eleven Palestinians were reportedly injured in two separate incidents.
'U.S. To Blame'
Palestinians have been frustrated by what they regard as U.S. bias in favor of Israel in the current conflict.
Erekat suggested on Monday that it was time for President Bush to "open his eyes to see the truth" and stop listening to Sharon.
Arafat spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh said Monday Israel "policy of assassinations" was being conducted with a "green light from the United States."
Palestinians were already angered by comments that Bush made over the weekend, criticizing Arafat for the continuing violence. They had also noted a muted U.S. response to Israeli strikes against Palestinians last week.
"If the Palestinians are interested in a dialogue then I would strongly urge Mr. Arafat to put 100 per cent effort into stopping the terrorist activity, and I believe he can do a better job of doing that," Bush said on Friday.
In reaction, newly-appointed Arab League spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi said the U.S. bias was now "full and absolute." Ashrawi, a former PA minister, accused Bush of "parroting the Israeli point of view."
She said America had become an accomplice to crimes against the Palestinians by providing support to Israel.
In other reaction, PA Information minister Yasser Abed Rabbo charged that Bush had adopted Sharon's policy of not negotiating under fire in an attempt to block a planned meeting between Arafat and Peres, being arranged by the Europeans.
He said Washington did not want to play an active role in bringing the two parties back to the negotiating table and didn't want anyone else to do so either.
Peres and Arafat agreed last week to meet although no time or location had been set.
Peres' deputy, Michael Melchior, said on Monday he believed the meeting was important and that it would indeed take place.