By Deborah Camiel, Reuters
Israel has appealed to the United States to intercede with Palestinian chairman Yasser Arafat to halt spiraling violence, as Arab foreign ministers recommended freezing political contacts with the Jewish state.
Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer asked American Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the U.S. administration "to do all they could to persuade Arafat to stop the violence," Ben-Eliezer's spokesman said.
At least 441 Palestinians, 13 Israeli Arabs and 87 Israelis have been killed since the Palestinian uprising began.
Ben-Eliezer and Rumsfeld spoke by phone on Saturday after 22 people were killed in two days of Arab-Israeli bloodshed.
Two rounds of Israeli air raids moved Arab foreign ministers meeting in Egypt on Saturday to recommend the suspension of political contacts with the Israeli government until it halted its military assaults against the Palestinians. They did not call for an outright break in diplomatic ties.
Arafat said the ministers had expressed solidarity with their Palestinian brethren. "Arab brothers presented a strong and clear stand with the Palestinian brothers in this crisis," he told reporters in his Gaza office after returning from Egypt.
Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, due to leave on Sunday for a two-day visit to Russia, said he regretted the conclusions of his Arab counterparts.
"(It) was agreed to clarify all the disputed issues through dialogue at the negotiating table without the interference of terrorism and violence," Peres said in a written statement.
Response to suicide bombing
The bombardment of the West Bank and Gaza Strip was Israel's response to a suicide bombing that killed six people, including the bomber, and wounded at least 110 at HaSharon shopping mall in central Netanya on Friday.
The militant Palestinian group Hamas claimed responsibility.
In the latest strike, Israeli helicopters rocketed Palestinian Authority headquarters in the north West Bank towns of Jenin and Tulkarm, wounding at least 50 Palestinians, mainly civilians.
Israeli troops also killed a Palestinian policeman on Saturday during a gun-battle in the West Bank and shot dead another Palestinian in the Gaza Strip. The Israeli army said both were armed and posed a threat to its forces.
A 20-year-old Palestinian was killed by Israeli gunfire while throwing stones at troops in the West Bank city of Nablus after a funeral for 11 Palestinian policemen who died on Friday night in the Israeli bombardment there, hospital sources said.
Palestinian gunmen and Israeli soldiers traded fire on Saturday near the West Bank towns of Qalqilya, Ramallah, Hebron and Beit Jala. No injuries were reported.
The Israeli army said a similar exchange erupted later when three grenades were thrown at an army outpost between the Egyptian border and the Palestinian-ruled Gaza Strip refugee camp of Rafah. It said a roadside bomb was then detonated near an army armored vehicle, though no one was hurt.
Palestinian witnesses said their side did not fire, but Arafat's Fatah group took responsibility for the blast.
"This is war, my friends, this is war," Israeli Minister of Communications Reuven Rivlin told Reuters in Jerusalem.
Palestinian Authority condemns suicide attack
The Palestinian Authority condemned Friday's suicide bombing and urged Israel to show restraint.
On Friday night, Israel unleashed F-16 warplanes for the first time in the eight-month-old Palestinian uprising against military occupation, killing at least 12 Palestinian policemen in strikes on Palestinian security compounds in the West Bank and Gaza. At least 90 Palestinians were wounded in the attacks. The fighting brought new calls for an end to the violence.
"I...call on behalf of the United States for all leaders in the region to...do everything in their power immediately to bring into being an unconditional cessation of violence," Secretary of State Colin Powell said in Washington.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan called the suicide attack appalling, but branded Israel's response "disproportionate."
EU President Sweden said both sides bore responsibility for the violence and urged a rapid return to the negotiating table.
Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to urge an end to the violence.