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Israel launches assault on West Bank refugee camps

balata incursion
Israeli army armored personnel carriers enter the Balata refugee camp near the West Bank town of Nablus on Thursday.  


JERUSALEM (CNN) -- In what it called an attempt to root out terrorists in the West Bank, Israel launched its largest assault on Palestinian refugee camps since the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict began.

The Israeli assaults targeted two camps -- one in Balata, near Nablus; and another in Jenin. Helicopters and tanks were involved in the attacks, but much of the fighting is being done on foot in the camps, which are crisscrossed by narrow alleys.

The Israel Defense Forces said the camps "are central bases for terrorist factors responsible for the murder of scores of Israeli civilians."

The operations have resulted in the deaths of 13 Palestinians and one Israeli, according to the Israeli army and Palestinian security sources.

In Aida, two Israeli helicopter gunships fired at the power plant for a refugee camp at Beit Jala, knocking out power and injuring three people, according to Palestinian security sources. The Israel Defense Forces said the strike was made after members of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades fired mortar rounds into the Gilo area from Beit Jala.

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The group is the military wing of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement. It has launched a series of bombings and terror attacks in recent months.

The IDF said there is continuous fighting between the two sides in the refugee camps, including heavy exchanges of fire and the detonation of a number of roadside bombs against the Israeli forces.

The Israel army says it has taken over the Balata refugee camp, and military sources say they have conducted house-to-house searches there.

The Israeli incursions follow a suicide attack Wednesday by a Palestinian woman, who was identified by Israeli media as a resident of the Balata camp. The woman emerged from her vehicle with explosives strapped to her body and blew herself up during a routine stop at a West Bank checkpoint, according to Israeli military sources.

Two other Palestinians in the woman's vehicle were killed and at least three Israeli police received non- life-threatening wounds, the military sources said.

An Israeli soldier was killed and two others wounded during the operation in Balata, the IDF said.

Palestinian security sources said five Palestinian policemen, a civilian and a gunman were killed in fighting at the Jenin refugee camp and three Palestinians were killed in Balata refugee camp in the clash with Israeli soldiers. The Palestine Red Crescent said 60 others were wounded in the Balata violence, three critically.

The violence took place as a meeting was held Thursday between Israeli and Palestinian security officials, Israel Defense Forces said.

The latest violence is playing out against the background of a Saudi Arabian peace initiative on the Middle East. Under that proposal, the Arab world would make peace with Israel in exchange for an Israeli withdrawal from territories it occupied during the Six Day War in 1967.

U.S. State Department officials said Thursday that William Burns, the department's top official on the Middle East, has left for Saudi Arabia for consultations about the peace initiative. Burns is expected to seek further clarification about the idea floated by Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah. (Full story)

Wednesday's suicide attack appeared to be the second involving a Palestinian woman. In late January, Israeli authorities said, a Palestinian woman set off a bomb on a crowded street in West Jerusalem, killing herself and an 81-year-old Israeli man.

And it was the latest in a series of attacks at Israeli checkpoints. Six soldiers were killed in one such attack near Ramallah last week. The Israeli military has responded with punishing attacks on the Palestinian infrastructure, and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon announced last Thursday that Israel will create buffer zones intended to provide security for Israelis.



 
 
 
 






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