- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 9, 2002

JERUSALEM In the deadliest day of fighting in 18 months, Israel raided Palestinian towns and refugee camps yesterday, while a Palestinian gunman opened fire on a Jewish settlement. Amid the carnage, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon hinted at new flexibility in reaching a truce.
Thirty-nine Palestinians were killed in Israeli raids on towns and refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Six Israelis were slain by Palestinians.
The U.S. administration, which has announced a new Mideast mediation mission, demanded yesterday that Israel immediately halt the strikes.
Israeli troops used machine guns, tanks and helicopters to attack Palestinians positions in a Gaza village and two West Bank refugee camps.
"The sky was raining with bullets from all directions," farmer Hatem Abu Teir said of the Israeli assault on the Gaza village of Khouza, where 16 Palestinians, including a general, were killed. The Israeli army called the village a "center of terrorist activity."
Among the casualties was a regional commander of the security forces, Maj. Gen. Ahmed Mefraj. All but two of those killed were armed, and 55 persons were wounded.
In the West Bank, the heaviest fighting was in Tulkarm and around Bethlehem; six Palestinians died at each location. An 11-year-old Palestinian was killed by Israeli fire in a Jenin refugee camp.
In Tulkarm, dozens of Palestinian gunmen were pinned down in alleys and in homes, surrounded on all sides by Israeli forces, including helicopter gunships firing from above. Israeli troops, using loudspeakers, called on the gunmen to surrender. About 250 Palestinians were rounded up in a local school.
Israeli troops barred Palestinian ambulances from entering a refugee camp to retrieve casualties, and a count of six Palestinians killed in the camp including a 9-year-old boy was expected to climb. An Israeli soldier was also killed in the fighting.
In the Jewish settlement of Atzmona in Gaza, a Palestinian gunman killed five Israeli teen-agers during a 15-minute rampage that began just before midnight Thursday.
The Bush administration, which made a surprise decision to send an envoy to the region next week, demanded an immediate halt to the Israeli strikes. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said, "Above all, civilians should not be targeted."
In Jerusalem, police caught a Palestinian man carrying large amounts of explosives. Police said officers killed the man as he was about to detonate the device.
The fighting yesterday resulted in the highest one-day death toll to date and capped the bloodiest week since the intifada, or uprising, began September 2000, with 108 Palestinians and 36 Israelis killed in the past seven days. The deadliest day before yesterday was Dec. 2, when 24 persons, including 15 Israelis, were killed in a suicide bombing.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell phoned Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat yesterday, ahead of the renewed mediation mission by U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni.
Gen. Zinni has failed twice before, but a senior administration official said the risks of sending the envoy now were considered less compared with the dangers of standing aloof.
Mr. Sharon suggested yesterday that he was dropping his insistence on a week of calm before the two sides begin implementing a truce. "Negotiations to stop the shooting will be held under fire," Mr. Sharon told Israeli television's Channel Two.
The Israeli Cabinet was to convene tomorrow to give formal approval to two U.S.-backed plans for reaching a cease-fire and resuming peace talks. The plans were drawn up last year by CIA chief George J. Tenet and an international commission headed by former Sen. George J. Mitchell.
Mr. Arafat, meanwhile, pleaded with Mr. Powell to intervene in the fighting, telling him "the United States should work immediately to stop this Israeli escalation," according to Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat.
Palestinian intelligence officials said yesterday they had arrested Majdi Rimawi, the fifth and final suspect whose arrest had been demanded by Israel in the October assassination of Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi.
Israel has said Mr. Arafat must arrest all suspects for it to lift its travel ban on the Palestinian leader, who has been confined to the West Bank town of Ramallah since December. Mr. Arafat is pushing hard to be able to attend the Arab summit in Beirut later this month.
In Cairo, Arab foreign ministers were working on a draft for a new peace initiative to be presented at the summit, Palestinian Planning Minister Nabil Shaath said.
The draft details Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah's proposal to offer peace and pan-Arab recognition if Israel withdraws from all Arab lands conquered in the 1967 Mideast war. The draft would spell out that a peace deal must be based on U.N. resolutions and must address the fate of Palestinian refugees, Mr. Shaath said.
In the fighting yesterday, Israeli helicopter gunships fired missiles at several Palestinian security installations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
A rocket attack on a police base north of Gaza City killed five Palestinians, including a medic. Another attack, in the Gaza town of Khan Yunis, narrowly missed the Palestinian police chief, Brig. Gen. Abdel Razek Majaidie, who left the building moments before the rockets struck, his aides said.


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