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For second straight day, Israeli forces send tanks into West Bank towns

By Associated Press

Friday September 14, 2001

JERUSALEM - Israeli tanks rumbled into Palestinian towns in the West Bank for the second straight day yesterday, igniting gun battles that left three Palestinians dead and 21 wounded.

Palestinian leaders accused Israel of stepping up incursions into their territory as the world turned its eyes toward the horrendous aftermath of terror attacks in the United States.

The tanks shelled buildings and exchanged fire with Palestinian gunmen in Jenin and Jericho in raids the military said were intended to "root out terror."

The attack came a day after an overnight raid in Jenin and two nearby villages that killed seven Palestinians, including three suspected Islamic militants and an 11-year-old girl. A fourth suspected militant died yesterday of injuries sustained in the attack.

The army said yesterday it was investigating the death of another Palestinian man apparently shot near the West Bank town of Ramallah.

In nearly a year of fighting, 626 people have been killed on the Palestinian side and 173 on the Israeli side.

Amid the persistent bloodshed, there were efforts to bring Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat together for truce talks.

Arafat's adviser, Nabil Aburdeneh, said he expected a date and site for the meeting would be determined in the coming days. He said it is important for Peres, a celebrated peacemaker, to come to the table with a full mandate from hawkish Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Sharon has insisted there can be no peace negotiations while violence continues, limiting talks to arranging a truce. Peres said he would be prepared to discuss a cease-fire and related issues, including easing restrictions on Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo suggested Peres and Arafat could meet Sunday but said details needed to be worked out.

The United States and Europe were also pushing for the meeting. Despite the turmoil in the United States, Secretary of State Colin Powell called Arafat, Sharon and Peres on Wednesday to urge talks.

Powell called Arafat again yesterday, according to Aburdeneh.

Israel, meanwhile, reopened its air space after banning incoming foreign flights in the wake of the terror attacks in the United States, said Ports Authority spokesman Pini Schiff.

In a new security measure yesterday, Israeli police closed the street in front of the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv. Police spokesman Gil Kleiman said it was part of stepped-up security after the attacks in the United States.

The new Israeli incursions intensified Palestinian accusations that Sharon's government was exploiting the world's preoccupation with the attacks in the United States to escalate its military strikes.

In a statement after a meeting late yesterday, the Palestinian Cabinet said, "We condemn this misuse of the shocking tragedy by the Israeli occupation forces to continue its escalation against our people."

"The Israeli government is hiding behind the dust and tragedy in New York and Washington, D.C., to commit these crimes against our innocent civilians and cities," Abed Rabbo said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Sharon compared Arafat to accused terrorist Osama bin Laden, a leading suspect in the U.S. attacks.

"Everyone has his own bin Laden. Arafat is our bin Laden," Sharon was quoted as saying on Israel radio. Sharon made the remark in his telephone conversation with Powell, the radio reported.

The Israeli incursions into Jenin and Jericho began in the early hours yesterday and the forces pulled out several hours later, in line with previous Israeli incursions.

In Jenin, Israeli forces destroyed the rest of a police compound they attacked the day before and then withdrew, the army said.

Palestinians said the tanks shelled houses and fired machine guns, killing three people - a man and woman in a house and a gunman. Nine other people were wounded during the Jenin incursion, they said.

In the desert oasis of Jericho, flares lit up the night sky as tanks rolled into town. Residents said several greenhouses were destroyed and at least one house was damaged by tank fire. The local hospital reported 12 people wounded.

Israeli Defense Ministry spokesman Yarden Vatikay said the military had information that Palestinian militants in Jericho were preparing attacks against Israelis, but gave no details. Israel has said repeatedly that militants have used Jenin as a staging site for suicide attacks against Israelis.


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