Israelis kill 2 in West Bank operations

Scores of soldiers shut down TV stations, wreck produce market

January 31, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

HEBRON, West Bank - Israeli forces staged two major operations in the West Bank yesterday, fatally shooting two Palestinians in Tulkarm and sending scores of soldiers into this battered city, where they closed TV stations and demolished a block-long produce market.

The operations in Tulkarm and Hebron, with other Israeli military activity, came two days after an overwhelming election victory by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who pledged a tough approach to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

Israeli military officials said yesterday that their actions came in the course of pursuing Palestinian militants, responding to Palestinian violence and trying to deter terrorist activity.

Palestinians called the measures excessive and unjustifiable, but said they expect to see more of the same.

"Sharon wants to show his muscles now," said Abdul Karim Alzaru, 26, who stood guard outside a bank in Hebron as a convoy of tanks and bulldozers rumbled toward the open-air market in the center of town, then methodically flattened and swept aside scores of stalls.

Most of the vendors had fled, warned by military loudspeakers that the city was being put under a curfew.

Those who remained occasionally dashed out into the street with flimsy, dirty plastic bags and frantically scooped up apples or oranges that had not been crushed by the military vehicles, then retreated to sidewalks as the bulldozers and tanks swept around anew, crushing more of the fruit.

"This is a crime - an inhuman, unethical act," said Sadi Kawasmi, 50, of Hebron. "Neither peace nor security can be achieved this way."

Military officials said that soldiers had warned vendors to remove their stalls so tanks could use the street and that vendors had not obliged.

Yesterday's military actions and the responses by Palestinians in Hebron and Tulkarm, who hurled rocks at soldiers and police officers, showed that the election Tuesday had done nothing to alter the bitter, destructive state of the conflict.

On Wednesday, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat offered to meet with Sharon and resume peace talks. But Sharon declined, charging that Arafat encourages attacks on Israelis.

The Israeli army said that the raid in Tulkarm was a mission to arrest two members of a militant group, Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade.

The army said that as the police entered the city, crowds of Palestinians threw stones and Molotov cocktails at them. The police dispersed the crowds with tear gas and rubber-coated steel pellets, and Palestinian officials said seven people were injured.

After the police spotted the two wanted men outside a store and closed in on them, officers came under fire from gunmen nearby, the army said. The army said that the police returned fire and ordered the two men, who tried to escape, to halt, then fired warning shots into the air.

When the men did not stop, the police shot and killed them, the army said.

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