RAMALLAH, West Bank -- Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, yesterday brushed off Israeli threats to kill him, as US and other leaders criticized Ariel Sharon, Israel's prime minister, for suggesting an act that could plunge the region deeper into chaos.
Sharon said in interviews published Friday that Arafat and a Lebanese guerrilla leader, Hassan Nasrallah, should not feel beyond the reach of assassination by Israeli forces.
Arafat emerged yesterday from his office to speak to reporters in the West Bank headquarters complex where he has been confined for more than two years by such threats.
"For me, I don't care," Arafat said. "I care only for my people, for our students, for our children."
His aides, however, said they were taking the threats seriously. Last month, Israel killed the Hamas leader, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the most senior Palestinian figure targeted by Israel in more than three years of fighting.
Violence continued yesterday, with a Palestinian gunman killing an Israeli man and wounding his 12-year-old daughter in their home in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank.
The Hamas group claimed responsibility for the attack on the Avnei Hefetz settlement near the Palestinian town of Tulkarem, the Lebanese TV station Al Manar reported.
Palestinian security forces identified the gunman as Zohair Arda, 18, a Hamas militant from the Tulkarem refugee camp.
The assailant reportedly cut through the settlement's fence and broke into a home, firing shots that lightly wounded the girl. When her father appeared with a pistol, the attacker shot him to death, the army said.
Palestinian gunmen have repeatedly targeted isolated settlements, particularly during the Jewish Sabbath, when people are more likely to be at home. The Israeli military said that in 3 1/2 years of fighting, 25 settlements have been attacked during the Sabbath and over holidays, and that 41 Israelis have been killed and more than 60 wounded.
In the Gaza Strip, Israeli forces searched tunnels used to smuggle weapons under the Egyptian border. Troops blew up one tunnel in the border town of Rafah.
Residents of the area said three Palestinians were lightly wounded in the Israeli operation. An army spokesman gave no immediate reports of casualties. Helicopters fired machine guns into a field nearby, apparently to provide cover for Israeli forces.
Also yesterday, the Israeli military arrested 23 Palestinians in the West Bank city of Nablus. Witnesses said that more than 70 jeeps drove into the city before dawn, and that soldiers ordered people out of homes.
Arafat, meanwhile, said he was unimpressed with Israel's threats against his life.
Sharon has repeatedly accused Arafat of involvement in attacks on Israelis. It was not clear if his remarks meant he would no longer honor assurances to US officials that Israel would not harm the veteran Palestinian leader.
In Washington, the deputy secretary of state, Richard Armitage, said: "Our position on such questions -- the exile or assassination of Yasser Arafat -- is very well known. We are opposed, and we have made that very clear to the government of Israel."
Russia's Foreign Ministry criticized the Israeli threats yesterday.
"Russia has repeatedly spoken against the practice of extrajudicial executions, which not only violate the norms of international law but also run counter to efforts to break the meaningless cycle of violence," Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Yakovenko said.