- The Washington Times - Monday, October 22, 2001

JERUSALEM Israeli tanks moved deeper into the West Bank yesterday, tightening their grip on biblical Bethlehem and five other towns in their widest operation against the Palestinians in years.
Three Palestinians were killed yesterday, and the Palestinian Health Ministry said a teen-age boy, wounded in fighting last month, died of his injuries.
The three-day assault, retaliation for the assassination of an Israeli Cabinet minister by a radical Palestine Liberation Organization faction, drew harsh international criticism and set off disagreements within Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's coalition government.
In New York, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres told U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan yesterday that Israel does not intend to stay in the areas it entered, according to a spokesman for Israel's U.N. Mission.
"We do not want to overthrow the Palestinian Authority," the spokesman quoted Mr. Peres as saying.
Some members of the centrist Labor Party threatened to bolt the coalition a move that could seriously hobble the government if the escalation continued.
The focus of violence yesterday was Bethlehem, where Palestinians said three persons a police officer and a civilian in a nearby refugee camp and another civilian were killed when an Israeli shell landed near a hospital. The Israeli army reported that Palestinians threw a bomb at an Israeli tank near the refugee camp, setting off an exchange of fire.
The army also said it was looking into the hospital incident.
Palestinians reported two injuries in yesterday's fighting when a tank shell exploded 50 yards from the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the traditional birthplace of Jesus. The Israeli military, holding tank positions several miles away, was also checking this report.
Palestinian gunmen, meanwhile, opened fire from nearby Beit Jalla on the Jewish neighborhood of Gilo in a disputed part of Jerusalem, Israeli police said.
A few miles north, Israeli troops also moved farther into Ramallah the seat of Yasser Arafat's government in the West Bank and took over the Palestinian Local Affairs Ministry.
Israeli officials said the moves were made necessary by Mr. Arafat's inaction against militant groups refusing to honor a Sept. 26 cease-fire, and dismissed as rhetoric Palestinian claims that Mr. Arafat had outlawed such groups in recent days.
Palestinians say Mr. Arafat arrested 20 members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), which claimed responsibility for Wednesday's killing of Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi. The PFLP said it was avenging the Aug. 27 killing of its own leader, whom Israel accused of attacks on civilians.
"The state of Israel has the right to defend the lives of Israelis. We don't have interest in staying in Palestinian cities. That's not the goal of this activity," said Israeli Cabinet Secretary Gideon Saar. "If there will be quiet, we'll pull out."
Arafat aide Nabil Abu Rdeneh said the Palestinian leader told U.S. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell yesterday that the United States must pressure Israel to withdraw. "This issue will be a test [of] the willingness of the U.S. to keep its coalition, or to sacrifice the Arabs and Muslims to satisfy" Israel, Mr. Abu Rdeneh added.


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