- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 13, 2002

RAMALLAH, West Bank Israeli tanks and troops thrust into Palestinian refugee camps and took command of the streets in this key West Bank city yesterday, killing 31 Palestinians in one of Israel's largest military operations ever in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Seven Israelis were killed, including six in an ambush just inside the border with Lebanon. The attackers disguised as Israeli soldiers were reportedly Palestinians who slipped across Israel's previously quiet northern frontier raising the prospect of a new front in the current Mideast conflict.
Israel began stepping up its military operations against Palestinian militants two weeks ago after a series of deadly attacks on Israeli civilians. Since then, large numbers of tanks and troops have charged into six Palestinian towns and refugee camps.
Israeli security sources said yesterday that most combat soldiers in Israel's standing army and some reserve troops were deployed in the West Bank and Gaza Strip the most expansive operation since Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon. Israel's Channel 1 television said 20,000 Israeli troops were involved.
The operation was one of the largest in the West Bank and Gaza since Israel captured the territories in 1967. During the 1973 Mideast war, when Israeli mobilized all its reserves, thousands of soldiers were stationed in the Palestinian areas to maintain calm, and during the first Palestinian uprising, in 1987-93, many soldiers were posted there permanently but large-scale combat operations were rare.
"This is a dangerous escalation from the Israeli government that will lead the whole region into more violence," said Nabil Aburdeneh, spokesman for Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in his toughest statement on the Mideast violence, urged Palestinians to halt "morally repugnant" acts of terror and Israelis to end their "illegal occupation" of Palestinian territory and stop using excessive force.
U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said he believed it was the first time Mr. Annan had called Israel's occupation of Palestinian territory "illegal."
Also yesterday, Palestinians killed a suspected Palestinian collaborator and strung him up by his ankles in Ramallah.
The Israeli offensive comes at a time when many Israelis are demanding tougher action against the Palestinians. About 50,000 Israelis demonstrated in Tel Aviv on Monday night, demanding Mr. Arafat be removed.
Two Israeli Cabinet ministers from the ultranationalist National Union party resigned Tuesday, saying they felt Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's actions weren't strong enough. Mr. Sharon still retains a solid parliamentary majority 75 out of 120 seats.
With the Mideast suffering through its worst violence since fighting began 17 months ago, U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni is headed to the region this week. Mr. Zinni, who is to arrive Thursday, had two previous truce missions scuttled by violence, and reversing the momentum of the current fighting will be extremely difficult.
Mr. Annan, speaking at a U.N. Security Council meeting on the escalating violence, urged Mr. Sharon and Mr. Arafat to back Mr. Zinni's efforts. "You can still lead your people away from disaster," he said.
In the heaviest battle, more than 20 Israeli tanks entered the Jebaliya refugee camp just north of Gaza City and plunged it into darkness when Israeli fire struck a transformer.
Hundreds of Palestinian gunmen exchanged fire with Israeli forces, and at least 18 Palestinians were killed and 75 wounded by Israeli fire, doctors said.
Israel demolished three buildings it said were used to manufacture weapons but Palestinians denied the claim. The fighting lasted into the early hours of Tuesday before the Israeli troops withdrew from the camp, a stronghold for militants where 100,000 Palestinians are crowded into cinderblock homes. Jebaliya is the largest of more than two dozen refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza.
Israeli government spokesman Dore Gold said Israel was showing restraint and "not using the full strength of its air force against the refugee camps."
A Hamas leader, Abdel Aziz Rantisi, threatened revenge. "We have no choice but to kill the occupier, to kill him everywhere, every village and every city. There's no other way to defend ourselves," he said.
Israeli tanks also took control of the West Bank city of Ramallah and the adjacent Amari refugee camp, where heavy gunbattles raged during the night.
Five Palestinians, including two policemen, two unarmed guards at the parliament building and a taxi driver were killed by Israeli fire, doctors said.
In two other refugee camps in the Gaza Strip, four Palestinian civilians and a policeman were killed in the Israeli raids, and an 18-year-old Palestinian was shot dead by Israeli fire in central Gaza, Palestinian officials said.
In a gruesome scene, Palestinians killed a fellow Palestinian, Raed Naem Odeh, who was suspected of collaborating with Israel and strung him up by his ankles from poles at a traffic circle in Ramallah.
The dead man's bare chest was streaked with blood. Behind him was a billboard of a scowling, finger-wagging Yasser Arafat.
Israel's takeover of Ramallah came a day after Mr. Sharon announced he was lifting Mr. Arafat's three-month confinement there and said the Palestinian leader would now be free to move around the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Mr. Arafat remained inside his compound in Ramallah yesterday as Israeli tanks controlled the otherwise empty streets. Tanks were stationed throughout the city, though not in the immediate vicinity of the leader's compound.
A senior Arafat adviser, Ahmed Abdel Rahman, said that "talking peace with the Israelis was a historic mistake." He said he was confined to his Ramallah home because of heavy tank fire.
Israeli troops announced over loudspeakers that boys and men between the ages of 16 and 40 must come out of their homes and surrender to Israeli forces in Ramallah. Local TV stations urged the men not to comply.
Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said that "we have to be careful not to humiliate (people), not to treat human beings with contempt," adding that he believed Mr. Arafat felt humiliated by the Israeli actions.
Deputy Defense Minister Dalia Rabin-Pelossof, a moderate, said she expected the Israeli raids to end by the time Mr. Zinni comes. "I assume that when Zinni is here, this will not be the way things are done," she told Israel Army Radio.
In Washington, Israeli Ambassador David Ivry said that if Mr. Zinni can persuade Israel and the Palestinians to agree to a truce, he will propose monitors to keep it from breaking down.
"If we get an agreement, you have to monitor it," Mr. Ivry said at a news conference, indicating the idea had the support of the Israeli government. "It is a major idea that Zinni is going to put on the table."
The United States is prepared to provide monitors, a senior U.S. official said on condition of anonymity.
In northern Israel, at least two gunmen opened fire on Israeli vehicles near Kibbutz Metsuba, a communal farm close to the border with Lebanon.
Six Israelis were killed and another six were wounded, the army said. Security forces reaching the scene killed two attackers. There were reports of a third attacker, but security officials said it could not be confirmed. A seventh Israeli motorist died in a West Bank shooting.
A member of the Al Aqsa Brigades, a militia linked to Mr. Arafat's Fatah movement, said the group carried out the attack in northern Israel and that the assailants came from the Palestinian refugee camp of Ein El-Hilweh in Lebanon.

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