All-out war? The Israeli army has
been ordered to finish Hamas

At least five people, including a child, were killed and 30  wounded, medical sources said.

An announcement over Hamas-operated loudspeakers said the targeted car belonged to Hamas member Yasser Taha, who was killed in the attack.

Hamas official Mahmoud Zahar told Aljazeera that Taha's wife and two children were also in the car.

The Israeli order to the army calls on it to use “whatever means necessary”, saying all members of the group, including its spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, are legitimate targets.

Israeli army radio said on Thursday that the order was issued following a meeting between Israel’s Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz and the army’s top command.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniya said the order heralds an all-out war against the Palestinians. The Hamas leader said it also indicated Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's failure to bring security to Israel.

Sharon was elected on a platform pledging to crush the Palestinian intifada or uprising against Israel's occupation.

Hamas has been spearheading the current intifada since it began in September 2000.

In a statement, the group vowed to carry out more resistance attacks and told all foreigners to leave Israel for their own safety. Hamas sources told Reuters the group was holding to its policy not to target foreigners.

Overnight Israel launched helicopter attacks into the Gaza Strip that left at least nine people dead.  

Earlier, a Palestinian disguised as an Orthodox Jew detonated explosives on a bus in West Jerusalem, killing 16 people.

The bus bombing followed Israel’s failed assassination attempt on Hamas leader Abd al-Aziz al-Rantissi on Tuesday.

A fourth Palestinian died early Thursday from wounds sustained in that attack.

Call for peace

US President George W. Bush condemned the killings and called on “all of the free world” to prevent further violence.

Bush met Sharon and Abbas last
week in an effort to end the conflict

The Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Maher also urged the international community to intervene and end the cycle of violence

US Secretary of State Colin Powell and United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan urged Palestinians and Israelis to remain on the path laid out at Aqaba. Annan was holding talks with Powell in Washington.

The attacks came a week after Bush held talks with Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas and Sharon in the Jordanian resort of Aqaba.

In other developments Israeli soldiers shot and wounded a Palestinian civilian in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron on Thursday.

The man, said to be mentally ill, was shot at when he did not stop at a checkpoint in the city during a curfew.

Israeli tanks also launched a raid near the Rafah crossing  in the occupied Gaza Strip overnight, demolishing several homes. 

Congress criticises Bush

Meanwhile, Bush faced criticism from Israel’s supporters in the US Congress for rebuking Israel for its assassination attempt of Rantissi.

Democrat Representative Tom Lantos of the International Relations Committee defended the Israeli attack, saying the attempt to kill Rantissi was Israel’s right in order to protect itself.

Lantos said Abbas had failed to disarm “terrorists”.

The influential pro-Israel lobby group the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) said it should be US policy to support targeted killings of Palestinians.

Palestinians and human rights groups regularly condemn Israel’s policy of targeted assassinations.