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Posted: 4/2/2002 7:14:26 PM EDT
[size=4]Bethlehem Seized by Israeli Forces[/size=4] By Laura King AP Special Correspondent Tuesday, April 2, 2002; 9:18 PM RAMALLAH, West Bank –– Israel seized control of Bethlehem and another West Bank town Tuesday in a day of wild fighting that left at least 13 Palestinians dead. Palestinian gunmen forced their way into the Church of the Nativity, where tradition says Jesus was born, and Israeli tanks and helicopters pounded the headquarters of a Palestinian security chief. Amid the fiercest Israeli offensive in 18 months of conflict, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat angrily rejected an Israeli offer to free him from confinement in his compound in the West Bank town of Ramallah – provided he goes into exile. [b]Arafat spent a fifth straight day pinned down by Israeli troops and tanks, his compound now ringed by barbed wire.[/b] Israeli troops pressed ahead with house-to-house searches for Palestinian militants and weapons as part of what Israel calls "Operation Protective Wall" – aimed at halting terror attacks targeting Israelis. In the seventh such attack in as many days, a Palestinian man blew himself up Tuesday night when security forces stopped him at a checkpoint in Baka al-Sharkiyeh, a Palestinian village along the line between Israel and the West Bank. The man detonated explosives strapped around his body, killing himself but not injuring others, the military said. In a dramatic gesture that underscored hardships caused by the Israeli incursion, Palestinians buried 15 of their dead in a hospital parking lot in Ramallah. Families of the dead had been unable to claim the bodies, which were decomposing in a hospital morgue because power cuts made refrigeration impossible. Relatives wailed and gunfire from fighting echoed as the bodies were placed in common graves carved out by a bulldozer – one for 13 men, one for two women. Ramallah residents, though, got a respite of a few hours from a curfew that has been in effect since Israeli tanks and troops moved in on Friday. People poured into the shops, lugging away canisters of cooking oil and plastic bags bulging with pita bread. Canned goods were popular, as many people have no electricity and perishable food has been rotting in refrigerators. [b]By nightfall, most of the about 400 Palestinians trapped in the compound of West Bank security chief Jibril Rajoub near Ramallah had surrendered to Israeli troops, in a deal brokered by U.S. and European officials.[/b] About eight men remained inside. The sprawling compound was battered by the Israeli onslaught, with gaping holes punched in rooftops and building facades by shellfire and rockets. Holy places were not immune from violence that raged the length and breadth of the West Bank. Dozens of armed Palestinians were holed up inside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, which is built over the grotto where tradition says Jesus was born. About 20 of the gunmen were wounded and being tended to by nuns, according to witnesses trapped in the church compound. - continued -
Link Posted: 4/2/2002 7:16:52 PM EDT
The armed men, some of them Palestinian policemen, forced their way into the church after running battles with Israeli troops firing from helicopter gunships and from tank-mounted machine guns. At nightfall, the bodies of four gunmen lay sprawled just off Manger Square, where the church is located. As Israeli troops circled the church, the men rested in pews and on the stone floor, said Samir, a Palestinian policeman inside the church. About 20 of the gunmen were wounded and being tended to by several nuns and priests, Samir said. "Most of the guys have run out of bullets," Samir said by telephone. About 120 armed men were hiding in the church, said Marc Innaro, a correspondent for Italy's RAI TV, who was trapped in the compound by the fighting along with five colleagues. As the fighting intensified, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon proposed publicly for the first time that diplomats fly Arafat into exile. Sharon noted such a move would require Cabinet approval. Arafat denounced the suggestion, saying he would rather be a "martyr" than go into exile. Throughout the conflict, much has been made of Sharon and Arafat's bitter personal enmity, which many observers see as a driving force behind the fighting. "These two people...have lived this conflict for a very long time – too long if you ask me," European Union security chief Javier Solana said. Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said the offensive would last three to four weeks, the first senior Israeli official to give a time frame. However, Sharon has said the campaign was open-ended. In Washington, Secretary of State Colin Powell said Israel should end the campaign quickly, but suggested the United States would not insist on an immediate Israeli withdrawal. "I would guess it will take them (the Israelis) a couple of weeks" to conclude the mission, Powell said on NBC's "Today" show. Powell expressed opposition to expelling Arafat. "Until he decides he's going to leave the country, it seems we need to work with him where he is." Powell also spoke to Jordanian Prime Minister Ali Abul-Ragheb, who told him that Israeli aggression was threatening the stability of the region, the Petra news agency said. The State Department, citing a "deteriorating security situation," warned Americans to defer travel to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza and said dependents of American diplomats in Jerusalem were being encouraged to go home. Similar warnings to Americans to stay away from Israel were issued in December and January. Americans living in Jerusalem, the West Bank and in Gaza were advised to consider relocating. * * * See remainder of article at:[url]http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A53957-2002Apr2.html[/url] Eric The(Raging)Hun[>]:)]
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