Israeli forces occupy city in West Bank, target Islamic Jihad

Sharon orders closing of Jewish settlements in Gaza to nonresidents

July 14, 2005|By Joel Greenberg | Joel Greenberg,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

JERUSALEM - Israeli forces swept into the West Bank city of Tulkarem yesterday, killing a Palestinian police officer in a gunfight and arresting five suspected members of Islamic Jihad after the militant group killed four Israelis in a suicide bombing Tuesday, the army and Palestinians said.

Pressing ahead with preparations for a withdrawal next month from the Gaza Strip, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon signed an order closing Jewish settlements there to nonresidents in an effort to block entry by protesters who have vowed to resist the pullout.

The reoccupation of Tulkarem came four months after it was handed back to Palestinian security control as part of steps to bolster a truce. Moves to hand over other West Bank cities were frozen after Tuesday's bombing, Israeli officials said.

A woman and two 16-year-old girls were killed in the attack outside a shopping mall in the coastal city of Netanya, and another woman died yesterday of her wounds. More than 30 people were wounded in the bombing, carried out by an 18-year- old Palestinian from the village of Attil, near Tulkarem. Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the attack.

"I have instructed the defense establishment to step up our activity and to hit the leaders of the Islamic Jihad terror organization as much as possible," Sharon said. "We will not relent until they stop the murder actions."

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said Israel would not allow Islamic Jihad to upset plans for the Gaza withdrawal, scheduled to start in mid-August. Known in Israel as "the disengagement," the pullout will also include the evacuation of four Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

"Islamic Jihad has made a strategic decision to thwart the disengagement process through terror bombings," Mofaz said. "We have decided that we will act in every way, everywhere and anytime against Islamic Jihad, ... and in parallel we will continue to make all necessary preparations to carry out the disengagement plan on schedule."

Israeli troops entered Tulkarem and the neighboring refugee camp early yesterday, declaring a curfew and conducting house-to-house searches. Youths and children hurled stones, and troops responded with stun grenades, residents reported.

Palestinian police, who had been patrolling in recent months, left the streets, but a gunfight erupted at one checkpoint on the city's outskirts. A Palestinian officer was killed and a second critically wounded.

Palestinian security officials said Israeli troops in civilian clothes advanced on the checkpoint and that the Palestinian officers, who did not recognize the armed men as soldiers, opened fire.

The Israeli army said two soldiers from the paramilitary border police were wounded and that the troops returned fire, hitting two Palestinians.

Five members of Islamic Jihad were arrested during the raid, the army said. Palestinians said two relatives of the bomber were arrested in his village.

In southern Israel, police checkpoints were set up yesterday on roads leading to the Gaza Strip after Sharon signed the order closing off the Israeli settlements in the territory to nonresidents. The move came in advance of a planned mass march to the Gaza settlements next week by opponents of the withdrawal.

Several hundred people have arrived in the Gaza settlements in recent months, moving into empty homes and buildings to bolster resistance to the pullout, which is scheduled to start Aug. 17. Tent encampments have been set up in some settlements to accommodate more protesters.

Maj. Gen. Dan Harel, chief of the army's southern command, said the Jewish settlements had been closed to nonresidents after "the increased and uncontrolled entry of extremist elements to the area of the Gaza Strip, who are arriving with the intention of disrupting the mission of evacuating the settlements ... and in advance of the huge demonstration ... whose declared aim is to bring many tens of thousands of people to Gush Katif," the main settlement bloc.

Under the new arrangement, residents will be issued permits enabling them to travel to the settlements, and passes will be required for entry by people who work in the settlements or provide services.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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