Thedraconian measure was taken less than 24 hours after two Palestinian human bombers from the town carried out a double suicide bus-bombing attack in the southern Israeli city of Beir al-Saba, killing as many as 16 Israelis and wounding scores of others.

 

The Palestinian resistance group, Hamas, has claimed responsibility for Tuesday's bombings, describing it as long-delayed retaliation for the assassination by Israel earlier this year of the movement's two top leaders, Shaikh Ahmad Yasin and his successor Abd Al-Aziz al-Rantisi.

 

The bombing in Beir al-Saba was the first of its kind in five months - a period when Palestinian sources and human-rights groups say Israeli troops killed 350 Palestinians, including many innocent civilians.

 

Targeted killings

 

Reacting to the latest guerrilla attack, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is known to have instructed Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz to step up "targeted killings" of Palestinian resistance activists and leaders.

 

The Israeli army has killed hundreds of Palestinian resistance fighters, political activists and leaders since the outbreak of the Palestinian uprising against the Israeli occupation four years ago.

 

A cousin of Nassim Jabari has
blamed Israel for his decision

The "targeted killings" have been condemned by human-rights organisations as extra-judicial and unacceptable in the eyes of international law.

 

Sharon has also vowed to speed up the construction of the separation barrier, the gigantic wall Israel is building in the West Bank which Palestinians complain is annexing large swathes of their land.

 

Furthermore, the Israeli chief of staff, Moshe Yalon, has threatened to attack Syria and Hizb Allah, charging that the perpetrators of the bombing in Beir al-Saba got their orders from Damascus.

 

Hamas has vehemently denied the charge, calling it a "cheap distraction".

 

Homes demolished

 

On Wednesday, the Israeli army destroyed the family homes of the Beir al-Saba bombers, Ahmad Abd Al-Afu Kawasmi and Nassim Subhi al-Jabari.

 

The father of Ahmad said he never would have thought that his son could embark on such a mission.

 

"It never occurred to me that this would happen. He just didn't look like the kind of boy who would or could do such a thing," he told Aljazeera.net.

 

"It never occurred to
me that this would happen. He just didn't look like the kind of boy who would or could
do such a thing"

Father of Ahmad Abd Al-Afu Kawasmi, one of the bombers

On the other hand, Muhammad al-Jaabari, a cousin of the second bomber, Nassim, blamed Israel for the violence and bloodshed.

 

"The world must understand that the ongoing Israeli genocide against us makes such incidents inevitable," he said.

 

"The world should think twice before blaming the Palestinians ... just imagine the depth of the oppression and bitterness that make a young man blow himself up into bits and pieces."

 

Jaabari, who was receiving condolences for the death of his cousin next to the demolished home, said killing innocent civilians was wrong.

 

"I know it is wrong, but killing our civilians is wrong as well. And their children's blood is not more precious than our children's blood."

 

Hamas defiant

 

For its part, Hamas has struck a defiant note in the face of the Israeli threat to resume targeted killings.

 

"Israel has been waging a relentless war against Hamas for many years," Mushir al-Masri, a spokesman for the group told Aljazeera Television on Wednesday from Gaza.

 

"Hamas will continue the struggle for freedom no matter what Israel does."

 

The policy of home demolitions
has failed to prevent bombings

He criticised the international community for what he called its "duplicity and double standards" vis-a-vis the Palestinian resistance.

 

"We only hear an outcry when Israelis are killed, but when Palestinian children and women are killed, there is only a deafening silence," al-Masri said.

 

Hamas has in the past offered to stop targeting Israeli civilians if Israel stopped targeting Palestinian civilians.

 

But Israel has rejected those offers, arguing that an arrangement as such would give Hamas a sense of victory and parity with Israel.

 

Since the outbreak of the Palestinian intifada, the Israeli army and Jewish vigilantes have killed as many as 3500 Palestinians, a fourth of them children and minors.

 

During the same period, Palestinians fighters gave killed as many as a thousand Israeli soldiers, settlers and civilians.