- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 10, 2002

JERUSALEM Palestinian militants, surprising Israel with fierce resistance in the West Bank's Jenin refugee camp, killed 13 soldiers in a suicide ambush yesterday as Washington stepped up pressure on Israel to end its 12-day-old invasion.
The militants lured a reserve force patrolling the camp into a courtyard, witnesses and officials said.
Once inside, Palestinians detonated several bombs and shot at the soldiers from surrounding rooftops. One militant wearing a belt full of explosives also charged the squad and blew himself up, turning the courtyard into a tangle of body parts and rubble.
The ambush was the bloodiest assault on Israeli soldiers in 18 months of fighting in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the worst clash since 30,000 Israeli troops charged into the West Bank late last month to halt suicide attacks on the Jewish state.
It promised to further complicate a peace mission by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, scheduled to arrive here tomorrow night.
The United States has pressed Israel to withdraw its force before Mr. Powell arrives.
Mr. Powell kept up the pressure in a telephone call to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon yesterday, hours after Israeli troops pulled back from two West Bank towns.
But Mr. Sharon said fighting would continue until militants were subdued.
"It is a battle we will continue to pursue according to the government's decision, until we dismantle the terrorist infrastructure," Mr. Sharon said on Israeli television shortly after the attack in Jenin.
Hours after the ambush, Israeli military sources said more soldiers were wounded by Palestinians, but they did not provide details.
Israeli soldiers have killed at least 100 persons in Jenin alone since the incursion. It wasn't clear how many Palestinians died in yesterday's clashes.
While fighting raged in Jenin and the nearby town of Nablus, Islamic militants in Lebanon kept up their steady barrage on Israel's northern border, hitting army positions and civilian communities with rockets and shells.
No one was wounded in the assault from Lebanon, but it raised concerns that Israel's conflict with Palestinians could expand into a broader Israeli-Arab confrontation.
In at least five cities in the West Bank, Palestinians remained under Israeli curfew as troops scoured homes and buildings for weapons and fugitives.
Gen. Ron Kitrey, briefing reporters in Jerusalem, said Israel had uncovered thousands of explosives in 12 days of fighting and arrested more than 2,000 men but released most of them.
Gen. Kitrey, Israel's chief army spokesman, said Palestinian militants were taking cover deliberately among civilians, making it harder for Israel to strike them.
"We know there are civilians there," Gen. Kitrey said about the Jenin refugee camp. "That's why we didn't use more efficient means that would make it easier for us. That's why we paid a very dear price today," he said.
The dead Israeli soldiers were all reservists, men in their late 20s and early 30s who had been plucked from their jobs and families in a limited mobilization nearly two weeks ago.
Gen. Kitrey said a second force that came to rescue the squad also was fired on and suffered casualties, though none died.
Military censors suppressed news of the ambush for hours as officials notified families of the dead. But while Israeli media made no mention of the clash, rumors circulated of a much higher death toll.
Gen. Kitrey said it took hours for soldiers to pull all the bodies from the rubble. He said at least 20 gunmen were involved in the exchange. Soldiers wounded some, but most managed to flee.
"The degree of resistance we faced there was beyond our expectations," he said.
The refugee camp, a congested warren of dilapidated homes and narrow alleyways, is located in the heart of the city and is home to some of the most hard-core Palestinian militants.
At least 23 attacks on Israel, including suicide bombings and drive-by shootings, were perpetrated by Palestinians from Jenin since fighting erupted in September 2000, Israeli officials said.
Armed men in the camp had clashed even with Palestinian security forces that tried to arrest militants or collect illegal weapons.
Israel entered the city a week ago and took control of most of it within two days, but the fighting persisted in the refugee camp.
Gen. Yitzhak Eitan, head of Israel's central command, told reporters that at least 100 militants refused to surrender and still were battling troops.
Palestinians said Israel had turned the camp into an arena of destruction, wrecking more than 100 homes and firing missiles from helicopters into crowded neighborhoods.
"Yesterday, soldiers evicted more than 50 women and children from their homes and demolished the buildings," said Mohammed Abu Ghali, who runs Jenin hospital at the edge of the refugee camp.
He said bodies of Palestinians killed in the fighting were strewn in the streets and that the wounded were forced to stay in their homes without medical care.
"We don't have a clear picture of the extent of the damage inside because we're not allowed to leave the hospital," Mr. Abu Ghali said by phone, with gunfire rattling in the background.
Other Palestinians complained that Arab countries and international organizations were not coming to their rescue.
"Where are the Arabs? Where is the international conscience to witness what is happening?" said one fighter who identified himself as Abu Sami, speaking to Arabic Al Jazeera television from inside the camp.
Israel has sealed off Jenin and prevented journalists from entering the camp. Reporters who reached the outskirts of the city yesterday were turned back by soldiers.
In the West Bank town of Bethlehem, nearly 200 Palestinians remained holed up in the Church of the Nativity, the traditional birthplace of Jesus.
Israeli officials said negotiators were seeking a way for the men to leave. Many of them are armed militants, Israel says, and must be arrested.

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