- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 14, 2001

JERUSALEM — Israeli tanks began withdrawing from the West Bank town of Jenin this morning after a three-hour nighttime attack on Palestinian Authority buildings, reports said.
It was the first time Israeli forces have entered a Palestinian-controlled city in 10 months of hostilities, and followed two suicide bombings Israel said originated in Jenin.
The attack came after Prime Minister Ariel Sharon reluctantly approved new cease-fire talks with the Palestinians to prevent the collapse of his national unity government. It was not clear how the Israeli attack would affect the prospect of talks.
Israel said the military incursion, which destroyed a police station, was in "response to a series of terror attacks," including a suicide bombing near Haifa that wounded 15 Israelis and another in Jerusalem that killed 14 Israelis, Reuters news agency reported.
Demolishing two Palestinian checkpoints with tank rounds, the Israeli armor pushed into the center of Jenin, where soldiers briefly seized a building belonging to the town's governor and the main security headquarters in Jenin, Reuters reported.
Armored bulldozers flattened two adjacent police buildings in the town, Palestinian officials said. The army said in a statement it would "continue to act as necessary to prevent terror and protect Israeli civilians and soldiers."
Four Palestinian security officers were wounded.
As the Israeli forces began to withdraw, Palestinians ran into the streets cheering and claiming a military victory over Israel. Some fired automatic rifles into the air in joy, Reuters said.
The Israeli forces were concentrating their fire on the main police headquarters, but also were targeting the governor's office, the Associated Press quoted witnesses and security sources as saying.
Israeli helicopters were flying above the city during the operation, but did not appear to fire, the witnesses added.
The Israeli military had no immediate comment on the report.
Israeli forces briefly entered Palestinian-controlled territory on multiple occasions during Middle East fighting, but today's incursion was the first time they had entered a Palestinian-controlled city.
Palestinian shopkeepers yesterday staged a general strike to protest Israel's takeover last week of the Palestinian headquarters in East Jerusalem.
Israeli forces seized Orient House on Friday in retaliation for a suicide bomb that killed 15 persons at a pizza restaurant in Jerusalem.
Rescue crews were assisting the wounded from a second bomb attack on Sunday in the Israeli city of Haifa when Mr. Sharon authorized Foreign Minister Shimon Peres to open new talks.
The decision, which came after protracted weekend talks between the coalition leaders, bent a central pillar of Mr. Sharon's public policy that no negotiations of any kind resume until Palestinians bring their violence to an absolute halt.
Political analyst Hanan Kristal told Israeli radio yesterday that Mr. Sharon had agreed to Mr. Peres' demand only after becoming convinced that Mr. Peres and the Labor Party otherwise would abandon his government.
Mr. Peres has made no public threat to leave the government, but Mr. Kristal said Mr. Sharon detected clear signs that Mr. Peres was seriously considering such a move if his demand to resume a dialogue with the Palestinians was rejected.
Mr. Sharon has made no secret of the importance he attributes to maintaining a government led by Likud and Labor.
Labor's participation provides Mr. Sharon and his government a measure of acceptance it otherwise would not enjoy in the international community, as well as a much-desired measure of domestic unity in trying times.
Mr. Peres has increasingly argued that talks with the Palestinians must resume in spite of the violence.
"In London, in Spain and in Colombia, they do negotiate under fire, even in times of terrorism," he said in a speech yesterday before the Labor Party central committee.
"I'm in favor of a military response [to terror acts] when necessary, but I am not in favor of such responses only. One cannot fight fire with fire, because then you give the gunmen a monopoly."
Mr. Peres yesterday rejected weekend reports that the prime minister had forbidden him to meet in person with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and had demanded that a senior Israel Defense Forces officer be present at all meetings to ensure that only a cease-fire was discussed.
The peace plan put forward by former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell, which Israel has endorsed, calls for one week without violence to be followed by a cooling-off period before the resumption of any negotiations on a permanent peace.
Despite Mr. Sharon's stricture, Mr. Peres is likely to take a broad view of the nature of any talks in which he engages with Palestinian leaders.

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