JERUSALEM, June 12 AFP - Israel and the radical Palestinian group Hamas declared all-out war on each other today, promising more bloodshed after a Jerusalem bus bombing and retaliatory strikes on Gaza plunged the conflict into one of its most violent phases.
Yesterday's deadly exchange left 27 people dead and shattered hopes for implementing a US-sponsored peace plan launched last week at a summit in Aqaba, Jordan convened by US President George W Bush.
Israeli public radio said the army had been ordered to ``completely wipe out'' the Hamas movement, which claimed responsibility for the suicide bomber who killed 16 other people on a crowded bus in central Jerusalem.
The order was given after Israeli Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz met with his generals, the radio said.
It said everyone ``from the lowliest member to Sheikh Ahmad Yassin'' - a Hamas founder and its spiritual guide - was a target.
Two days after the army tried and failed to assassinate the group's top political leader Abdul Aziz al-Rantissi, Hamas was undeterred and returned Israel's declaration of war.
As Gaza prepared to bury 10 Palestinians killed in Israeli helicopter strikes on Hamas militants, members of the group's armed wing toured the city calling on the population to attend the funerals and promising bloody revenge.
``We will strike with martyrdom operations as soon as possible,'' shouted the members of the Ezzedin al-Qassam Brigades.
Among the victims of last night's helicopter raids were two senior military figures of Hamas.
One was said to supervise the firing of rockets on Israel while the other was a leading bombmaker.
But senior Hamas leader Ismail Haniya said that ``every Palestinian was a target'' for Israel and charged that Israel's order to wipe out his movement was evidence that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had failed his people.
``This threat reveals the security and political crisis Sharon is facing because he has failed to crush the Palestinian intifada and bring security to his citizens,'' Haniya told AFP.
With the international peace ``roadmap'' moribund despite unprecedented condemnations of the violence and ceasefire calls by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and prime minister Mahmud Abbas, Washington looked like the only force capable of stopping the rot.
Bush harshly condemned the bus bombing in Jerusalem, but he sparked an uproar in congress with a milder scolding of Sharon over the timing of the strike on Rantissi.
US lawmakers stepped up calls for Arafat's expulsion which were echoed in Israeli political circles.
But the government has so far ruled out the option, fearing the veteran leader would only gain in strength if he could move freely.
Sharon declared last night after the bus bombing that he would ``continue to fight relentlessly against terrorism'' but insisted the strikes were not a breach of the roadmap.
``We are going to continue the political process to ensure peace and security,'' he added.
The Israeli cabinet was scheduled to meet today to consider how to respond to the Jerusalem bombing, which also left scores of people wounded, including 28 who were still in hospital today.
``It is Israel's duty to respond following the horrific attack in Jerusalem, but we have to avoid antagonising the Americans, we have to react in an intelligent way,'' Justice Minister Tommy Lapid said.
A team of US observers due to arrive early next week to monitor implementation of the roadmap could find the region engulfed in some of the worst violence since the Palestinian intifada, or uprising, began in September 2000.
Official Palestinian sources said today - a day after Egyptian Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman's visit to Ramallah - that a team of Egyptian experts was expected to arrive soon to try to broker a ceasefire.
Arafat, whom Israel and the US accuse of being the main force behind radical groups and responsible for anti-Israeli attacks, went live on Palestinian television to call for a ceasefire.
``I call on all Palestinian factions to stop all kinds of military operations and shooting attacks against Israelis,'' he said, describing the Jerusalem bombing as a ``terrorist act''.
But following the strike on Rantissi, Hamas announced that truce talks were not on the agenda and appeared determined to step up suicide bombings.
Rantissi himself vowed ``not to leave one Jew in Palestine''.
Collingwood footy fans refuse to take lying down a ruling by MCG chiefs against banging advertising panels on fences to cheer on their side. Magpie fan Lesley Benham was incensed when threatened with eviction from the G on Monday for pounding the panels. "I can't not fence bang,'' Lesley told the Herald Sun (no link). "I was born to bang on a fence.''