- The Washington Times - Monday, April 8, 2002

NABLUS, West Bank Israeli troops fought fierce battles with Palestinians in the West Bank yesterday, encountering stiff resistance in the crowded Jenin refugee camp and in the winding alleyways of Nablus' Old City.
At least 14 Palestinians were killed in Nablus, where dead bodies were sprawled along narrow, rubble-filled streets on the 10th day of Israel's operation to weed out militants staging deadly terror attacks on its civilians.
On another front, there were exchanges of fire between Lebanese guerrillas and the Israeli military yesterday. Six Israeli soldiers were wounded, the military said.
In a phone conversation late yesterday, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres asked U.S. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell to intervene with Lebanon and Syria to calm the border. They also discussed possibilities for a cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinians, according to a statement from Mr. Peres' office.
In New York, the U.N. Security Council last night insisted on "immediate implementation" of resolutions demanding an Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire and an Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian cities without delay. Israel's U.N. Ambassador Yehuda Lancry said a withdrawal must be "strictly related and connected to certain Palestinian steps the cessation of terrorist acts, the meaningful cease-fire."
Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said the military should operate as long as possible to "clean out terrorism" in the West Bank, but he acknowledged that in light of President Bush's demand for withdrawal, "our hourglass is running out."
However, the army's chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Shaul Mofaz, told the Cabinet he needed eight weeks to complete the job, according to Israel Radio.
"The critical element is time," he said later in a briefing to reporters. "We need time to get to all the centers of terrorism in the West Bank and Gaza."
Maj. Gen. Dan Harel, chief of military planning, warned that if the army pulls out too soon, "then another series of devastating terror attacks will hit Israel's cities and streets. And then we'll go [back] in."
Israeli troops have taken over most Palestinian population centers in the West Bank in their military operation, Israel's biggest in two decades. But the fighters in Jenin and Nablus have prevented the Israelis from taking full control of the cities and conducting house-to-house searches for militants.
Israeli tanks and troops maintained their positions just outside Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's office in Ramallah, but for the fourth straight day the fighting was focused on Nablus and Jenin in the northern part of the West Bank.
Palestinians said gunmen held Israeli troops at bay on the edge of the Old City in Nablus, with its winding, dusty alleys and close-packed buildings, ideal locations for snipers.
Israeli tanks were shelling targets in Nablus yesterday afternoon, witnesses said. At least 14 Palestinians were killed during the day's fighting, Palestinians said.
Nablus Gov. Mahmoud Aloul said there were dead bodies in an old mosque and 65 of the wounded were receiving treatment there because ambulances could not get in. Among those killed yesterday was Ahmed Tabouk, 38, a militia leader linked to Mr. Arafat's Fatah movement.
It was a similar scene in the Nablus streets, where Palestinians could not remove the dead bodies of fallen fighters because of the intense shooting. "We have found explosives laboratories, including one which was very advanced and well equipped, with a production line from the raw materials to the finished product," said Israeli Col. Aviv Kochavi, head of the paratroops brigade fighting in the Old City.
"We are moving forward slowly but surely, mostly on foot," he said. "Here and there we managed to get armored vehicles in, where the street was wide enough."
Israel has barred reporters from Nablus and other areas where the military is operating in the West Bank.
There was also fierce fighting in the Jenin refugee camp 25 miles north of Nablus, where the militant Hamas group said one of its local leaders, Ashraf Abu Al Haijga, was killed in a gunfight with the Israelis.
Israeli soldiers fought their way to the center of the camp yesterday morning, Israel Radio reported.
Army spokesman Brig. Gen. Ron Kitrey said, "We are on the verge of ending the fighting in the refugee camp." But he added that soldiers would seek to round up militants and would not immediately leave the area. "The resistance was very tough, perhaps tougher than expected," he said.

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