- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 15, 2001

JERUSALEM (AP) Israel rounded up dozens of suspected Palestinian militants in the West Bank on Friday in the widest sweep in 15 months of fighting, saying it had to step in where Yasser Arafat failed. Eight Palestinians were killed in gun battles with Israeli troops.
In the Gaza Strip, Israeli warplanes dropped two bombs on a Palestinian security compound, injuring seven Palestinians. Israel said it was retaliating for Palestinian mortar fire.
Early Saturday, more than 15 Israeli tanks, accompanied by personnel carriers and jeeps, entered the Palestinian town of Beit Hanoun in the Gaza Strip, witnesses said. The troops announced by loudspeaker that the town was under curfew. The army said it was checking the report.
A Palestinian official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said President Bush called Arafat on Friday night and urged him to crack down on Islamic militants. The White House said Bush had not called Arafat.
U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni, who tried and failed to negotiate a truce deal in the past three weeks, left Friday for Jordan and Egypt, and may return to Washington.
Bush said Zinni's job is being made tougher because Arafat is reluctant to round up "killers and people who would derail the peace process." U.S. officials in Jerusalem said Zinni's mission was also complicated by Israel's decision to cut ties with Arafat.
Zinni's mission was accompanied by an upsurge in attacks by Islamic militants on Israelis, followed by Israeli reprisals. Since Zinni's arrival, 63 Palestinians and 44 Israelis have been killed. The Palestinian toll included 29 assailants.
The violence has strained Israel's center-right government. Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, a moderate, said in an interview published Friday that it was a mistake to cast Arafat aside. However, Peres said he would not leave the coalition.
Israeli troops raided four West Bank towns and villages on Friday, killing eight Palestinians in gun battles, demolishing two homes and arresting about 50 suspected militants. The Israeli military said some of those detained were suspected of involvement in recent terror attacks. A senior Israeli military commander said it was the largest arrest sweep in 15 months of fighting.
Israel has repeatedly demanded that Arafat crack down on militants.
Government spokesman Arieh Mekel said Israel was no longer waiting for the Palestinian leader to do the job. "We are not telling Arafat anymore to do so. No more. We'll do it ourselves," Mekel said.
The biggest raid Friday was carried out in the Palestinian-ruled village of Salfit, where Israeli troops killed six Palestinian policemen in a gun battle. Army bulldozers also destroyed two houses in the village. After the raid, Israeli tanks drove out of Salfit in a convoy, and soldiers sitting on the armored vehicles flashed victory signs.
In the West Bank town of Hebron, Israeli troops killed two Palestinians from the Islamic Jihad in a gunfight and wounded another, the army said. The army said troops identified and pursued four armed Palestinians, opened fire and killed two.
The latest round of reprisals was triggered by a bombing and shooting attack on an Israeli bus Wednesday carried out by the Islamic militant group Hamas. Ten Israelis were killed and 30 wounded.
In response, Israeli warplanes and helicopter gunships have been blasting Palestinian Authority security buildings and police stations for three consecutive nights.
Israel's decision to cut ties with Arafat came early Thursday, in response to the bus attack. The Security Cabinet said Arafat "is no longer relevant to Israel, and Israel will no longer have any connection with him."
Peres, who negotiated interim peace deals with Arafat, said he told Sharon that the decision to shun the Palestinian Authority was shortsighted.
"I asked him (Sharon), 'Suppose Arafat disappears, what will happen then?"' Peres told the Yediot Ahronot daily. "If we chase Arafat out of here, we will get into problems with the Arab world, and Egypt and Jordan will sever ties with us."
Peres also said some of Israel's military strikes against the Palestinians made him "shudder," but that he was ready to admit he was wrong if the reprisals stopped attacks on Israelis by Palestinian militants.
Arafat adviser Nabil Abu Rdeneh charged that Israel is trying to sabotage international peace efforts. "This is a comprehensive war against the Palestinian people, its elected leadership and the peace process," he said.
European Union leaders appealed to Israel to resume contacts with Arafat, saying the decision to sever ties undermined peace prospects. The EU said, however, Arafat must dismantle the Hamas and islamic Jihad "terrorist networks."
"Israel needs a partner to negotiate with, both in order to eradicate terrorism and to work towards peace: This partner is the Palestinian Authority and its elected leader, Yasser Arafat," the 15 EU leaders said in a joint statement Friday. "His capacity to combat terrorism must not be weakened," they added.

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