Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - An Israeli soldier and a Palestinian gunman were killed and three other soldiers wounded on Wednesday in gunfight near the place where several Palestinian terrorists ambushed a civilian bus on Tuesday.
The attack happened at the entrance to the West Bank settlement of Immanuel just hours before international ministers gathered in New York voted to back PA Chairman Yasser Arafat's hold on power.
Israeli troops launched a massive search for three or four Palestinians who detonated two roadside bombs, disabling the civilian bus on Tuesday. The terrorists then fired on the passengers trapped inside from the nearby hillside and threw grenades through the windows of the bus. Eight people, including two infants, died.
Military sources said it was "more than likely" that the Palestinian gunmen encountered by the Israeli troops on Wednesday were those who had carried out the attack the day before.
Sergeant Elad Grenadier, 21, was killed and three other soldiers wounded, one seriously, in exchanges of gunfire, the army spokesman said. One of the Palestinian terrorists was also killed in the fighting but one or more escaped, prompting searches.
The eight people killed included a nine-month-old baby, her 30-year-old father and maternal grandmother. Her mother and twin were seriously wounded in the attack. A baby born by emergency caesarian section following the attack died on Wednesday, and the baby's mother is in serious condition.
Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, who visited the site of the attack on Wednesday, vowed that the army would arrest the terrorists.
"One thing I can promise you: We will catch them all... We know who they are, and we will lay our hands on those who sent them as well," Ben-Eliezer said.
According to Ben-Eliezer, the Hamas cell that launched the attack apparently was the same group that carried out a similar attack in the same place on the same bus line seven months ago. Eleven people were killed in that attack.
"I hope that you paid attention to the competition of all the groups [to take responsibility]," Ben-Eliezer told reporters.
The Al-Aksa Martyrs Brigade linked to Arafat's Fatah faction was the first to claim responsibility for the attack, and they other groups also said they did it, including the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Hamas.
The military wing of Hamas, Izzadin al-Qassam Brigades, said its men planted roadside bombs at the entrance to the community, threw hand grenades and "showered the bus with Qassam bullets."
The bus's doors were jammed in the explosion and the 20-30 occupants inside could not escape.
Israel blamed the PA, which condemned the attack in a statement "in accordance with its policies that reject targeting civilians, Israelis or Palestinians."
"This attack is just another proof of the efforts of terrorist organizations to kill Israelis," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Noam Katz.
Talks between a so-called "integrity team" headed by Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and newly appointed Palestinian ministers were put on hold on Wednesday following the terror attack.
Nevertheless, Katz said that the contacts between Israel and the Palestinians would continue because it was a decision of the government to hold the meetings.
"We believe it's important to talk with them in order to calm down the situation," said Katz.
Although the Palestinian leadership is responsible for creating the suffering of the Palestinian people, Katz said, Israel is interested in improving the situation of the Palestinians.
The PA blames Israel for causing its people to suffer. It says military closures, curfews, and limited movement are taking their toll.
In talks in New York on Tuesday, Secretary of State Colin Powell failed to convince United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller (whose country holds the rotating EU presidency) that Arafat should be pushed off the stage.
Annan, Russia and the EU maintain that as long as Arafat is the elected leader of the Palestinians, he must be treated as such. Foreign Ministers from Egypt and Jordan, who also met with the ministers about the situation, back that position.
The U.S. has tried to shun him and Israel refuses to deal with him. But one Israeli official said that the Arab world and Europe also see Arafat as a problem.
"The Arab world and Europe see him as an obstacle," said the official, who asked not to be named. "The question is how you do it. [They] believe we have to find a way to work with him."
The U.S. on the other hand has taken a "moral view", he said. "There are times in history when morality is more important [and you] have to create new alternatives."
E-mail a news tip to Julie Stahl.
Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.