- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 16, 2001

GAZA STRIP Israeli troops searching for militants flattened houses and security buildings in the Gaza Strip yesterday and briefly took over part of a Palestinian town, setting up tents outside a girls' high school. Five Palestinians were killed, more than 50 hurt and 15 arrested, witnesses and officials said.
Late last night at least eight Israeli tanks and bulldozers entered Palestinian areas surrounding the town of Tamun in the West Bank, Mayor Bashar Bani Odeh said. The army confirmed it was operating in the town but gave no other details.
Israeli tanks and armored vehicles entered the town of Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza before dawn but pulled out in the evening. Israel has been moving deep into Palestinian areas in recent days, accusing Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat of failing to act against militants.
Israeli forces also moved into a Palestinian area in southern Gaza, near the border with Egypt. No Israeli soldiers were reported wounded in either action.
In Washington, the State Department said U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni, who has tried unsuccessfully to broker a truce for three weeks, would return to Washington for consultations.
The relentless violence undermined Gen. Zinni's effort to negotiate a cease-fire to almost 15 months of Mideast fighting. The U.S. envoy met Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo yesterday before he was called back to Washington.
At the United Nations, the United States vetoed a Palestinian-backed Security Council resolution that condemned terror acts on both sides and called for a Mideast truce overseen by international monitors. The Americans said the measure was aimed at isolating Israel politically.
Hanan Ashrawi, a leading Palestinian spokeswoman, said the U.S. veto gave Israel "a free hand to attack Palestinians defenseless, captive, besieged Palestinians."
"And at the same time [the Americans] are closing off any other possible avenue," she said.
The Israelis described Beit Hanoun, at the edge of Israel's own territory, as a stronghold for militants. As the Israeli armor moved in, soldiers with loudspeakers announced that the town was under curfew.
Hundreds of Palestinian youths threw stones at the advancing Israeli forces and set tires ablaze. The confrontations quickly escalated into shooting exchanges between Palestinian security forces and Israeli troops.
Four Palestinians were killed by Israeli gunfire, including a 12-year-old boy and a police officer, according to witnesses and Shifa Hospital officials in Gaza City.
Overall, more than 50 Palestinians were injured, doctors said. The Israeli military said 15 Palestinians were arrested.
The Israelis demolished five houses, three security offices and a headquarters of Mr. Arafat's Fatah movement. One of the houses belonged to Salah Shahed, the founder of the armed wing of the militant group Hamas, but witnesses said he was not in the area at the time.
Israeli forces moved onto the grounds of the Beit Hanoun Secondary Girls' School, briefly putting up tents in the yard and raising an Israeli flag atop one building, witnesses added.
"We did not carry out this operation thinking it will put a complete stop to terror, but it definitely damaged the effectiveness," said Brig. Gen. Israel Ziv, the Israeli commander for Gaza. If the Palestinian Authority does not wage an "obvious fight against terror, we will have no choice but to continue these operations."
An explosion near the border between Israel and the West Bank town of Tulkarem killed one Palestinian yesterday, the army said. The army said the explosion was apparently caused by a Palestinian suicide bomber whose charge exploded prematurely as he tried to enter Israel. The man was a member of the militant Islamic Jihad group, Palestinians said.
At the southern end of Gaza, a Palestinian militant carrying grenades attempted to cut a fence and enter the Jewish settlement of Gush Katif but was shot dead by the Israeli military, the army said.
Afterward, Israeli tanks moved several hundred yards into Palestinian territory on the fringes of nearby Rafah, Palestinians said.
Palestinian security forces in Gaza shut down the offices of two newspapers, one belonging to Hamas, the other to Islamic Jihad. Israel has demanded that Mr. Arafat move against the groups, which have carried out repeated suicide bombings.
Israel's military also carried out wide-ranging arrest sweeps Friday in the West Bank and Gaza, in which eight Palestinians were killed and about 50 were arrested. A day earlier it had announced it was severing all ties with Mr. Arafat, reacting to a Hamas ambush of an Israeli bus that killed 10 Israelis.
Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, who opposed breaking off ties with Mr. Arafat, said yesterday it would be "impossible by military means to solve the conflict."
But he stressed that Mr. Arafat had to do more to halt the Palestinian attacks. "Arafat will be relevant when he begins to fight against terror," Mr. Peres told Israeli television.
In Ramallah, about 500 supporters of Mr. Arafat's Fatah party marched through the streets. The crowd, which included masked men carrying their weapons and children beating drums, waved Palestinian flags and posters of Mr. Arafat, chanting, "end the occupation" and "load your guns, and keep your fingers on the trigger."

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