- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 11, 2002

JERUSALEM Israel's 13-day-old invasion of the West Bank has netted a few top militants and a storehouse of weapons and documents, according to military officials, but the primary goal of ending the Palestinians' ability to stage more attacks remains elusive.

In the past week, Israeli soldiers fighting in the Nablus and Jenin areas the hubs of Palestinian suicide operations have killed top members of Hamas and the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, the groups behind attacks that caused hundreds of Israeli casualties in recent months.

Army officers, in daily press briefings, show journalists documents seized from security compounds or guerrilla hide-outs along with lists of thousands of weapons and bombs that have been uncovered. Soldiers have rounded up at least 2,000 Palestinians.

The invasion had just about frozen the suicide attacks, which had been occurring at a dizzying pace in recent weeks. But yesterday morning, a Palestinian suicide bomber struck in the Israeli city of Haifa, killing eight.

Despite President Bush's call for an early Israeli withdrawal and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's current mission to the region, the latest attack only stiffened Israeli resolve to continue its push into Palestinian territory.

With a full withdrawal unlikely anytime soon, Palestinians insist the incursion is just stoking anger in the West Bank and ultimately will increase the violence.

"I think that this invasion probably doubled or tripled the number of people who are ready to volunteer for suicide attacks," said Ghassan Khatib, who runs the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center, a Palestinian think tank.

"Suicide operations don't need squad leaders and much technical know-how. It's not a personal matter. It's a product of the conditions people are living under that create the thirst for revenge," Mr. Khatib said.

Palestinians killed 124 Israelis in attacks in March, making it the deadliest month for the Jewish state since the Palestinian uprising erupted in September 2000. Mr. Khatib said that was no coincidence and linked the surge in bombings to Israel's violent foray into Palestinian refugee camps in late February.

Israel announced over the weekend it had killed Qais Odwan, one of the two most senior Hamas militants in the West Bank. Odwan is thought to have engineered the Netanya suicide bombing on Passover eve that killed 26 Israelis late last month.

Israeli troops had been looking for Odwan, 25, since his days at An-Najah University in Nablus, where he studied engineering. The university is a Hamas stronghold Odwan headed the Islamic Students Association on campus and its engineering department has been described as a training ground for bomb makers.

Troops also killed Nasser Awais, a senior leader of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, the group affiliated with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction.

Al Aqsa has been a driving force in the 18-month-old Palestinian uprising in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. But only in recent months has the group, basically secular and nationalist in its makeup, added suicide bombings to its arsenal of attacks on the Jewish state.

Days before Israel's latest invasion, youngsters congregating around the main mosque in Jenin's refugee camp said they were ready to become suicide bombers or to direct attacks.

"Whenever my older brother becomes a martyr, I'm ready to take his place," said a 13-year-old who gave his name as Adwan.

For years, Israeli policy-makers have debated whether killing guerrilla leaders and field commanders has any significant effect on attacks. Those who support it say guerrilla violence can be fought only with limited goals not eradicating it but impairing the capacity of militias to conduct it.

"Nobody is indispensable, and eventually someone is bound to replace these guys, but it buys time and it lessens the effectiveness of the terrorist organizations," said Amir Oren, a military analyst who writes for the Israeli daily newspaper Ha'aretz.

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