- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 21, 2001

JERUSALEM Israel's multiple thrust into Palestinian territory was shaping up as the broadest military operation in more than a year of fighting, with Israeli troops entering two more West Bank towns yesterday. Eight Palestinians, among them three bystanders, were killed by Israeli fire.
It was the highest single-day death toll in more than two months.
The incursions a total of six in three days were triggered by the assassination of an Israeli Cabinet minister by Palestinian militants. The raids sparked concern among the United States, Russia and church leaders.
But they also brought a Palestinian pledge to clamp down on armed militias who have been regularly attacking Israelis with guns and bombs.
Asked to confirm a Palestinian leadership statement that all those breaking a Sept. 26 truce with Israel would be considered outlaws, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat said he had reined in armed militants before and would do it again.
"The decision is the decision," he told reporters in Gaza Strip yesterday. "We are committed to fulfilling our decisions."
However, this appeared to be more of a warning to militants than a declaration that all those belonging to military wings of various Palestinian factions were now subject to arrest.
Israel has complained that Mr. Arafat is doing little to crack down on militants. Israel has demanded that Palestinian security forces arrest and hand over the killers of Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi, as well as the leaders of the Popular Front of the Liberation of Palestine, a radical PLO faction that claimed responsibility for the assassination.
As of yesterday, 20 PFLP activists were in Palestinian custody.
With its military offensive, Israel sought to pressure the Palestinian Authority to hand over Mr. Zeevi's assassins, something Palestinian officials have said they would not do.
Early yesterday, Israeli tanks entered the West Bank towns of Qalqilya and Tulkarem. They were met by Palestinian fire, and four Palestinians were killed in the fighting, doctors said.
Among the six towns targeted by Israeli forces since Thursday was biblical Bethlehem, where a 19-year-old Palestinian was shot dead yesterday as he stood a few yards from the Church of the Nativity, the traditional site of Jesus' birth. Witnesses said that the shot was fired at some distance, and that there was no fighting near the church.
In the town of Beit Jalla, where troops set up positions Friday, a 23-year-old Palestinian woman was killed yesterday by shrapnel from an Israeli tank shell and machine-gun rounds that hit her as she stood at the entrance to a friend's house, doctors said.
A 15-year-old Palestinian boy was killed by soldiers in Palestinian territory southeast of Bethlehem. The military said he was shot by troops at an army post after he stabbed and lightly wounded a soldier.
In Bethlehem's Aida refugee camp, a female visitor was shot dead, apparently in cross fire between troops and Palestinian gunmen.
An Israeli government spokesman, Arnon Perlman, said troops sealed Tulkarem and Qalqilya because of warnings that militants there were preparing to carry out suicide attacks in Israel.
The leaders of major Christian denominations in Jerusalem issued a joint call for an Israeli withdrawal from Bethlehem.
"Whilst we deplore all acts of violence, we appeal to world church leaders and the international community to make urgent representation to the Israeli government to bring this intolerable situation to an immediate end," the statement said.
The U.S. State Department demanded Friday that Israel halt the incursions. The Israeli offensive threatens Washington's efforts to retain Arab and Muslim support for military action against Islamic militants suspected of having masterminded the Sept. 11 terror attacks on New York and on the Pentagon.
There was a display of anger by Israeli Arabs yesterday, when several thousand supporters of the Islamic movement staged an anti-U.S. rally in the Galilee town of Tamra. One banner read: "Afghanistan is the new holocaust."
In the Gaza Strip, visiting Russian Mideast peace envoy Andrei Vedozen said after meeting Mr. Arafat that the situation in the Palestinian areas had become critical.
"What is happening now is a dangerous military escalation," he said. "This is a dangerous threat to the peace process."
Israeli officials would not say how long the troops will stay. "There is no ideological or strategic decision by the Israeli government to conquer these areas and stay there," Cabinet Minister Tsipi Livni told Israel Radio. "Everything depends on how the Palestinian Authority will react."
The incursions into Beit Jalla and Bethlehem were triggered by shooting on the Jewish neighborhood of Gilo, built on war-won land on the outskirts of Jerusalem.
Israeli troops have repeatedly entered Palestinian towns in the past year, but the raids begun on Thursday marked the broadest Israeli military strike so far.
Since the killing of Mr. Zeevi, 21 Palestinians and one Israeli have been killed in fighting between the two sides.

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