- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 29, 2001

BEIT JALLA, West Bank — Israeli troops seized parts of this Palestinian town and fortified positions with sandbags yesterday as Israel said it was settling in for an indefinite stay — a first in 11 months of fighting.
The U.S. government urged Israel to withdraw and urged the Palestinians to stop shooting at Israeli residential neighborhoods.
Barely 10 miles away, tens of thousands of Palestinians crying for revenge flooded the streets for the funeral of a senior PLO official killed in an Israeli missile attack a day earlier.
Despite the Israeli operation to stop Palestinian gunfire from Beit Jalla at the nearby Jewish neighborhood of Gilo, sporadic gunfire continued. A machine-gun bullet hit an Israel TV truck, the first time Palestinians have aimed heavy weapons at the Jewish neighborhood.
Also, a mortar shell fired from Beit Jalla exploded in a community center in Gilo, police said. The building was empty and no one was hurt.
In other fighting yesterday, a member of the Palestinian security forces was killed in a gunbattle with Israeli troops near the West Bank town of Dura.
And in Rafah, near the Gaza-Egypt border, an 18-year-old Palestinian was shot in the head by Israeli gunfire after nightfall and died later in the hospital, Palestinian medical staff said. Witnesses said the youth was in a group of people near one of 14 houses torn down by Israeli forces Monday night and was hit by a bullet fired from a nearby Israeli army post. The Israeli military said soldiers opened fire on an armed man planting an explosive device.
But the deserted streets of Beit Jalla and the seething West Bank city of Ramallah, where the Palestinians held their rally, were the focal points of an escalating conflict marked by increasingly tough Israeli military responses to Palestinian attacks.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher called on Israel to pull its forces out of Beit Jalla.
"The Israelis need to understand that incursions like this will not solve the security problems. They only make the situation worse," he said at a briefing. But, he added, "the Palestinians need to stop the shootings and attacks against Israelis in Gilo and elsewhere."
The latest Israeli actions have pushed the Mideast crisis into uncharted territory, raising the possibility of urban combat. During most of the fighting, Israeli troops and Palestinian militants have maintained their distance from each other. But in Beit Jalla, Israeli forces were hunkering down in armored vehicles and atop Palestinian apartments, while Palestinian security forces were lurking only a block or two away on Virgin Mary Street.
The Israelis also took over a Lutheran Church compound that includes an orphanage with 45 children, ages 6 to 16. The children, who like most of Beit Jalla were placed under curfew, took cover from gunfire in a basement. Troops set up a machine-gun position on the roof of an adjacent five-story church hostel under construction, witnesses said.
"We demand that the army immediately withdraw from our church premises," said Munib Younan, the Lutheran bishop of Jerusalem.
The army, which wanted the church hostel because of its strategic location and panoramic view, pledged to ensure the safety of the children.
"Beit Jalla has become a snipers' nest, and our forces entered in order to clean it up in order to stop the fire," said Israeli government spokesman Avi Pazner.
Justice Minister Meir Sheetrit said Israel was not planning to reoccupy Beit Jalla, but would do so if there was no other way to stop Palestinian attacks. Israel withdrew from Beit Jalla and most other Palestinian communities in the West Bank in 1995, ending 28 years of military rule.
In Ramallah, tens of thousands of Palestinians thronged to the funeral of Mustafa Zubari, 63, the highest-ranking Palestinian slain in a months-long Israeli campaign of targeted killings of suspected militants.

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