JERUSALEM -- Firing missiles, tank shells and machine guns at Palestinian Authority positions, Israeli troops killed 15 Palestinians on Wednesday in reprisals for a Palestinian shooting ambush that killed six Israeli soldiers -- one of the deadliest attacks on Israeli troops in 17 months of fighting.
The six soldiers were killed at a West Bank checkpoint, shot at close range by three militiamen linked to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement.
The ambush ignited debate on the military's tactics, including the effectiveness of checkpoints, and intensified pressure on Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to take more decisive action in stopping Palestinian attacks. "It's clear that the strategy that we've had until now can't continue," said the Israeli president, Moshe Katsav.
Sharon declared after a meeting of Israel's security Cabinet on Wednesday that he would embark on a "different course of action" against the Palestinians. He did not elaborate. Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, an advocate for restraint who participated in the meeting, cautioned that there are no quick solutions.
In earlier reprisals by air, land and sea, Israel fired missiles at Arafat's seaside compound in Gaza City and his headquarters in the West Bank town of Ramallah. Arafat remained in his Ramallah office, the lights turned off and accompanied by a few close aides, said one of his advisers, Ahmed Abel Rahman.
A defiant Arafat later said that "neither tanks nor planes can scare us, they won't prevent us from achieving our demands," and he urged President Bush to intervene. An Israeli Foreign Ministry official, Gideon Meir, said Israel will respond to "this terror campaign which was imposed on us ... by Yasser Arafat and his gang."
In all, 15 Palestinians were killed, according to Palestinian officials: four in a missile attack on Arafat's Gaza compound, seven in Israeli shelling of two Palestinian police checkpoints near the West Bank town of Nablus, two in a firefight outside the Balata refugee camp close to Nablus, one in an airstrike on a Palestinian police post in the town of Ramallah, and one in a firefight near Ramallah.
The Palestinian dead included 12 policemen, two gunmen and a civilian.
The past week has been one of the bloodiest since fighting began in September 2000. Seventeen Israelis were killed, including 13 soldiers, a policeman and three civilians. In the same period, 45 Palestinians were killed, including nine civilians, 22 members of the security forces and 12 assailants and suspected militants.
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