- The Washington Times - Friday, March 1, 2002

JERUSALEM For the first time in 17 months of fighting, Israeli troops blasted their way into Palestinian refugee camps, sparking some of the fiercest battles to date in which 11 persons died.

Helicopter gunships, tanks and paratroopers entered into two camps on the West Bank, took over key buildings and went house to house searching for fugitives and weapons, witnesses said.

In camps in Jenin and near Nablus, they encountered fierce resistance from local militiamen and some uniformed security men. In the Jenin refugee camp, the Israeli force killed six Palestinian policemen and a civilian.

In one incident, fighting erupted outside the home of the Jenin police chief. Two of the police chief's guards and his 24-year-old son, himself a policeman, were killed, witnesses said.

The offensive followed a Palestinian suicide attack late Wednesday on an Israeli checkpoint in which three soldiers were wounded. For the second time in 17 months of fighting, the bomber was a woman.

Yesterday's battle further dampened the international enthusiasm behind a peace proposal floated by Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah that has won U.S. support.

Israel said the incursions were temporary and that soldiers would stay only long enough to crush terror cells in the two camps, which have been hotbeds of intifada (uprising) activity since fighting erupted.

The Palestinians described them as unprovoked acts of aggression.

"This is a predetermined massacre by the occupation authorities aimed at killing any effort at calm," said Jibril Rajoub, chief of the largest Palestinian security agency in the West Bank.

Israeli troops have repeatedly entered Palestinian towns and villages in the current fighting, but yesterday marked the first time large contingents of soldiers entered the camps, where militants have taken refuge amid densely packed houses that line narrow streets, making them inaccessible to Israeli tanks and other armored vehicles.

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