- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 16, 2002

JERUSALEM Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon pledged yesterday that his troops would withdraw from Jenin and all other West Bank cities and towns except Ramallah and Bethlehem "in less than one week."
Israeli soldiers also entered two small towns near Bethlehem yesterday, defying Washington's demands that they withdraw from the West Bank immediately. Israeli armor rumbled back into Tulkarm early today a week after pulling out of the West Bank city, in what Israeli military sources called a limited operation to arrest Palestinian gunmen.
"This is not a reoccupation," one military source told Reuters news agency. "It is a limited operation to search for terrorists."
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell has been shuttling between the Israelis and Palestinians since Friday, but he hasn't made much progress toward a cessation of hostilities or a political solution to the conflict. He went to Lebanon yesterday and later returned to Jerusalem.
He is to meet with Mr. Sharon again today and may meet with Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat tomorrow.
The stench of death greeted independent observers allowed into the Jenin refugee camp yesterday, where they found more than a dozen decaying bodies but could not find evidence of Palestinian charges of a massacre.
That claim, if verified, may require months of investigation, but Jenin, the site of ferocious fighting between Palestinians and Israelis last week, is a humanitarian disaster zone.
"There is no water, the civilians are in urgent need of basic sustenance, and most of the families have lost contact with their loved ones," said Jessica Barry of the International Red Cross.
She and other Red Cross workers entered the camp with deliveries of medicine yesterday. There was no way to know how many died in the camp, she said.
"It is impossible to make an estimate because we were only in a small part of the camp," Miss Barry told the Agence France-Presse news service.
Accompanied by officials of the Red Cross, the Israeli army, which had sealed off Jenin during the fighting, collected bodies of dead Palestinians, as ordered Sunday by the Israeli High Court.
The mayor of Jenin, Walid Abu Mueiss, told AFP by phone that he had accompanied the Red Cross, where they came across 15 bodies.
The Red Cross declined to confirm that figure, suggesting the question of the toll had gained too many political overtones for the organization to become publicly involved. The Palestinians have said "hundreds" were killed; Israeli sources put the figure at 35 to 40.
The Israeli army continued to block reporters and photographers from the camp.
Aid workers, as well as reporters, were prevented from entering Bethlehem's Manger Square, where soldiers held a tense shootout with Palestinians sheltering inside the Church of the Nativity.
Two armed Palestinian policemen one shot and severely wounded, the other apparently suffering from the noise of the persistent explosion of Israeli percussion grenades and sirens were taken into custody.
The standoff at the Church of the Nativity, a holy shrine to Christians, many of whom believe it is the site of the birth of Christ, has become a liability for the Israelis.They have sealed inside an estimated 200 Palestinians, many of them armed, as well as civilians and clerics.
Some governments in Europe and the Middle East and certain religious organizations have condemned the firing on religious sites. The Israeli government says it is exercising restraint in the face of fire from the Palestinians inside the church.
Soldiers also have encircled and occupied Mr. Arafat's compound in Ramallah, and they are waiting to apprehend several key associates who are accused of masterminding terrorist activities.
Yesterday they arrested Marwan Barghouti, a key political associate and the leader of the militant group Fatah, charging him with coordinating attacks, including suicide bombings, by the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade. Israeli television reported the capture of two more wanted Palestinians late yesterday.
Mr. Sharon yesterday spoke of his desire for peace but noted that Mr. Arafat is not a "partner" in the effort. He said that Mr. Powell should not have met with him on Sunday.
In Geneva yesterday, the U.N. Human Rights Commission adopted a resolution sponsored by Islamic states that condemned what it called Israel's "mass killings" and endorsed what it called the Palestinians' "legitimate right to resist." Seven nations on the 53-member panel abstained. France and Austria voted for the resolution.
Israeli Ambassador Yaakov Levy dismissed the document as "window dressing" and said it does not condemn the suicide bombings, but in fact gives Palestinians "a license to continue this policy of terrorism. That's why it is so wrong."
Meanwhile, the head of the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees accused the Israeli government of violating the Geneva Convention during its "war on the camps" and said troops had willfully destroyed U.N. medical supplies. "I cannot say we never had access, but I can say we have not had anywhere near the access that one would have expected if the Geneva Convention would have been observed," U.N. Relief and Works Agency chief Peter Hansen told Reuters in London.
The Israeli government, concerned by the harsh anti-Israeli tone of much of the reporting from the region, loosened its media blackout on Nablus and other towns yesterday where the aftermath of the invasion was evident. In Nablus' Old City, narrow alleys were lined with scorch marks and carpeted in broken glass. Trash fires lit to control pestilence sent an acrid smoke into homes through busted windows. Apartment houses were reduced to rubble fields. Some residents said the occupants were buried inside.
As many as 1,800 people have died since the latest uprising began in September 2000, with Palestinians accounting for the majority of casualties. Most of the Israeli dead died at the hands of suicide bombers, who targeted civilians.

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