Army officials denied killing or targeting civilians, and said they had warned the Palestinians where troops were headed so residents could seek shelter. Officials said they have refrained from firing at churches, even though militants are using the buildings as cover. At least seven Israeli soldiers were wounded, one seriously.
Israeli government officials are preparing to fly to Europe, Russia and the United States during the next two weeks to try to convince world leaders that Arafat's government supports terror and that it should be dealt with in the same way as the Taliban.
But there is considerable debate within Sharon's government about this new offensive. The left-leaning Labor Party is threatening to pull out of the coalition, saying it does not want to join in a war.
Peres, a member of the Labor Party does not support the incursions and is pressing to resume negotiations with Arafat. He has warned that the West Bank offensive could turn into a Lebanon -- an Israeli invasion nearly two decades ago that led to occupation and became a quagmire similar to the U.S. experience in Vietnam.
"Should we topple the Palestinian Authority, there will be a blood bath in the territories," he told a television station before departing for the United States.
Industry and Trade Minister Dalia Itzik, also a Labor member, predicted that her party would leave the government within three months. "This is an unfolding war that may result in us becoming trapped in the military and political mire," she said during yesterday's Cabinet meeting.
The Palestinian Authority appealed to the United Nations Security Council yesterday and announced steps that it says proves it is serious about a cease-fire. The measures include the arrests of 33 Popular Front members, though not Zeevi's killers; a ban on militant wings of political parties, including the Popular Front; and orders to arrest anyone who breaks the truce.
But Palestinian officials remained steadfast in refusing to hand over any suspects and said they will not enforce their prohibition on militants until Israel pulls its troops out of their cities.
In Bethlehem yesterday, the mood was somber. Most streets had emptied, and virtually every shop was shuttered. Soldiers had not advanced to Manger Square, but tanks could be seen from it, on the roads to Beit Jala. Soldiers were posted on the roofs of the Paradise and Intercontinental hotels, and a tank was parked on Yasser Arafat Street.
Bursts of gunfire were constant, and the few people who were out stayed close to buildings and darted into the streets only if they absolutely had to go somewhere.
Thalgieh's family gathered to mourn in a room adorned with portraits of Jesus.
They described the young man as a typical teen-ager who dressed in jeans and T-shirts, but who went every day to the Church of the Nativity, where he helped priests do everything from prepare Mass to sweep between the pews.
He was the third of five children, ranging in age from 7 to 19, and had wanted to become a priest since he was little. He was killed just after dusk as he played in Manger Square with his 2-year-old cousin, Michael Thalgieh.
Khalil Mouti, 47, an out-of-work tour guide, said he saw Thalgieh put down his cousin moments before being shot. Mouti said he believes the bullet was fired by Israeli soldiers posted on a street several hundred yards away.
Thalgieh's cousin, Suheil Thalgieh, 35, pleaded for help. "America is the only one that can stop this," he said, as he accepted condolences from a long line of friends. "At some point, they will wake up and realize that the problems of the whole world begin in Jerusalem, not in Afghanistan. We are tired with losing innocent lives."
His cousin "wasn't shooting at anyone, and he wasn't carrying a gun," he said. "The only thing he was carrying was a child."