Israeli soldiers occupy West Bank city, camps

Militants retaliate with suicide attacks

Bush to send envoy

March 08, 2002|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JERUSALEM - The Israeli army took over a Palestinian city and launched more airstrikes in the West Bank and Gaza Strip yesterday, killing at least 13 Palestinians and injuring more than 40.

Palestinian militants retaliated last night by sending a gunman into an army training school in the southern Gaza Strip, where he killed four Israelis with gunfire and grenades before being killed himself. A suicide bomber went to the Jewish settlement of Ariel in the West Bank and blew himself up at the entrance to a grocery store, injuring 10 Israelis.

In still another incident, two customers at a popular cafe in the German Colony neighborhood of Jerusalem helped thwart a bomb attack when they overpowered a man carrying a knapsack with wires sticking out. Police later found an explosive in the bag.

The accelerating violence prompted President Bush to announce he is sending special envoy Anthony Zinni back to the region next week, but also to caution that 'there are no assurances' the move would lead to peace talks.

Speaking in the White House Rose Garden with Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell at his side, Bush called on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to make a "maximum effort to end terrorism against Israel."

He urged Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his government "to do everything they can" to end the violence.

Israel is now bombing and raiding Palestinian cities and villages day and night, carrying out Sharon's stated aim of battering the Palestinians into submission. Military officials said their troops could reoccupy the entire West Bank in three days, but political leaders said that is not their objective.

"There will be an end," said Shlomo Gazit, a retired Israeli army general who is now an analyst. "The only question is when. Israel's goal is to force the Palestinians to an unconditional surrender - to give up violence without any negotiations or political solution."

At least 111 people have been killed in the past eight days, 79 Palestinians and 32 Israelis, despite calls by the United States and Europe for the violence to end.

To blunt criticism, Israeli Defense Minister Benjamin Ben- Eliezer met yesterday with several foreign diplomats, including U.S. Ambassador Daniel C. Kurtzer, to explain Israel's military strategy.

"Our sole aim is, in the first stage to strike at terror, and in the second stage to achieve a cease- fire." Ben-Eliezer said in a statement released after the meetings. "Israel, on its part, will exhibit maximum flexibility when it reaches the negotiating stage."

The Israeli press has been highly critical of Sharon's offensive. "If you do not know what to do, at least know what not to do: do not intensify the incursions and the entanglement." Yedioth Ahronoth editorialized. "Do not sink further into the same mud that is so familiar to us and to you. If there is one thing that you should not be doing, it is making the situation worse."

Arafat remained defiant yesterday, talking briefly with reporters at his compound in Ramallah, which has been hit by Israeli missiles on three consecutive nights. A missile strike Wednesday damaged a reception room used for diplomatic meetings.

"No one can shake the Palestinians." Arafat said.

But Israel showed no sign of slowing down. Early yesterday, tanks and soldiers moved into the northern West Bank city of Tulkarm, situated on the "Green Line." the pre-1967 border between Israel and the West Bank.

By daybreak, the army had gained control of most of the city and an adjacent refugee camp. Army officials said they planned to remain for two days conducting house-to-house searches for suspected terrorists and weapons.

Last night, Israeli officials said troops were in a second refugee camp within the city, where gunmen from several militant groups were firing.

Israeli commanders said they were reluctant to mount an all-out offensive because of the large number of civilians, and were trying to negotiate a temporary cease-fire for their evacuation.

Soldiers blew up the homes of several suspected militants, turned a United Nations school into a military post and fired onto streets from hovering helicopters.

Fighting also raged for a second consecutive day in the Gaza Strip, where five Palestinians were reported killed in gunbattles. In the West Bank city of Jenin, soldiers shot and killed a militant leader of the Islamic Jihad.

Israeli helicopters and warplanes also targeted Palestinian security buildings in Gaza City, Bethlehem and Hebron. In the central Palestinian government complex in Gaza City, only two of 25 buildings still stand.

Yesterday's strike there sent shrapnel flying into a U.N. school and a paramedic station. Hundreds of parents rushed to the scene to search for their children; none was reported injured.

It was the second day that a U.N. school was damaged by airstrikes.

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