- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 25, 2002

RAMALLAH, West Bank Israeli forces clamped down harder on the West Bank, as Prime Minister Ariel Sharon pledged to widen his military crackdown against Palestinian extremists to the Gaza Strip, where a helicopter strike killed four Hamas members yesterday.
Israeli forces control six of the eight main Palestinian cities and towns in the West Bank: Jenin, Nablus, Qalqiliya, Ramallah, Tulkarm and Bethlehem.
Jericho, which has been quiet during most of the 21 months of Middle East fighting, and Hebron, where the Israeli army maintains a permanent presence in part of the city, have not been taken over.
At least 600,000 Palestinians in the West Bank are confined to their homes by army curfews, although restrictions were lifted briefly in Nablus and Qalqiliya so residents could shop and go to school.
A major six-week military operation earlier this year that was aimed at wiping out militias behind terror attacks also focused on the West Bank, leaving the Gaza Strip where top militia leaders are based largely unscathed. This time, however, Mr. Sharon warned that Gaza would not be spared.
"We are preparing massive activity against Hamas in the Strip," Mr. Sharon said, adding that it had begun with the Israeli helicopter missile strikes on two cars yesterday morning in the southern Gaza Strip. He did not say what might follow.
Six Palestinians were killed and five were injured in the missile strikes in Rafah. Four of the dead belonged to Hamas, the group said.
Israel said it targeted and killed Yasser Rizik, a "senior Hamas activist" who was suspected of being behind a January attack that killed four Israeli soldiers.
After the missile strike, Hamas renewed its threats against Israel.
Palestinian police also surrounded the Gaza City home of Hamas spiritual leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin early yesterday, and Palestinian authorities said he was under house arrest.
Israeli forces arrested 10 Palestinians in the Hebron area yesterday, most of them Hamas members. Palestinian authorities also have said they had arrested dozens of Hamas members in Gaza in recent days.
In Ramallah, the Palestinian political headquarters in the West Bank, Israeli soldiers took up positions around Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's offices, where a bulldozer quickly barricaded the front gate and nearby streets with stones and debris.
More than 20 tanks were parked on the streets that surround Mr. Arafat's compound as of yesterday afternoon, and forces fanned out across Ramallah, imposing a curfew on residents of the city and adjoining al-Bireh.
Mr. Arafat was inside the compound with security aides and was not harmed.
"The Israeli government, with these continuous attacks, has revealed to the whole world its real intentions," Mr. Arafat said in a statement issued by the Palestinian news agency Wafa. "Nothing can weaken our belief in our legal right to have our own independence and freedom, and all this Israeli aggression will not achieve any political results."
The army said it had arrested 13 Palestinian police officers for questioning, taken up "strategic points" in Ramallah and had placed the area under curfew. Palestinians detonated explosives, slightly injuring one soldier, the army said. The streets were deserted except for Israeli jeep patrols.
In Nablus, meanwhile, a Palestinian gunman was killed after he opened fire on troops who stopped his taxi at a checkpoint. Palestinian witnesses said a tank opened fire at the gunman after he emerged from the car carrying an assault rifle.

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