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Globalization - Countries - Israeli-Palestinian Conflict see also Organizations

Israel Takes Over More Towns

TEL AVIV, Israel, June 20 (UPI) -- The Israeli army Thursday moved into more Palestinian towns in the West Bank and began calling up reserve soldiers as it widened its military operation in response to the increased wave of Palestinian suicide bombings.

The Palestinian attacks created "a new strategic situation," Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said.

Soldiers late Thursday were in Nablus, Jenin, Qalqilya, Tulkarim, Bitunia, Beit Jalla and Bethlehem, a senior military source told United Press International. Troops were surrounding Ramallah and the autonomous Palestinian section of Hebron. They were not besieging Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's headquarters, a military source said.

Two Israeli soldiers were killed in the West Bank town of Qalqilya during a military operation, Palestinian sources said.

The scope of these activities and plans for more operations have become too much for the regular army that is also facing Hezbollah fire from Lebanon. The army is calling up a reserve brigade immediately, a senior military source told UPI.

The soldiers in the captured towns have been detaining Palestinians for questioning but many of the people on the army's wanted list have disappeared.

Israel enjoyed a relative lull in Palestinian attacks following Operation Defensive Shield of April and May but in recent days militant attacks have intensified. On Tuesday, 19 people were killed in an attack on a bus in Jerusalem; an attack Wednesday, also in Jerusalem, killed seven. The Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, the armed wing of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's claimed responsibility for the second attack.

Arafat, whom Israel accuses of not doing enough to contain the violence, condemned the attacks.

He said shootings and bombings "must be completely halted." Otherwise, he warned, the result might be "full Israeli occupation of our lands."

The militant Hamas group said, however, it would continue with its operations.

"If we have an effective weapon in our hands and the whole world is trying to take it off us, this kind of reaction shows it to be the most effective way," Hamas spokesman Abdel Aziz Ranteesi said.

But on Thursday, at least one Palestinian gunman entered the settlement of Itamar, southeast of Nablus and barricaded himself in a family's home, a spokesman for the council of settlers and Channel 1 TV said.

Israel Radio said 4 people were killed and four were wounded in the attack.

Following Tuesday's attack, Israel seized a number of Palestinian towns and threatened to take and hold territory with each new attack until the violence stops. Israel has also begun building a fence that it hopes would prevent attackers from crossing over; next week, it will begin building a fence around Jerusalem, but will take months to complete the project.

In recent weeks, Israeli troops entered the autonomous Palestinian areas to follow on specific intelligence leads. Now, "we have no choice but to deepen our presence, look for (militants') infrastructure, and through our mere presence disrupt any (militant's) move to leave the towns," Ben-Eliezer said.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, of the hawkish Likud Party, and Ben-Eliezer, of the more dovish Labor Party, are split, however, on the duration of troop presence in the Palestinian areas and their task there.

Sharon's office released a statement Wednesday, before the second attack, warning: "Israel will respond to acts of terror by capturing (Palestinian Authority) territory."

"These areas will be held by Israel as long as terror continues. Additional acts of terror will lead to the taking of additional areas."

Ben-Eliezer said he strongly opposed "any permanent seizure of territories. I didn't agree to occupation ... for punishment."

The two latest bombings and Israel's response put back President Bush's reported announcement on plans for a provisional Palestinian state. On Thursday, Bush expressed sympathy to the families of those killed or injured in the attacks, and reiterated that Arafat must do more to end the violence.

"The president said that it's very important for the Palestinian Authority to demonstrate in action that they will help crack down on the violence and stop the violence and fight the violence so that all parties in the region can live in peace and in security," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.

Bush's sentiments came during a 10-minute conversation with Sharon.

"Yasser Arafat has spoken on this issue," Fleischer said. "The president is still waiting for him to act."

Secretary of State Colin Powell telephoned Foreign Ministers Marwan Muasher of Jordan, Ahmed Maher of Egypt and Prince Saud al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia to urge them to do what they could to deter terror attacks.

Powell's message was that "everybody does have a responsibility and we want to work together with these others to create a climate where the violence decreases and where people can actually seriously listen and look forward to moving down a path of peace," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.

(Saud Abu Ramadan in Gaza contributed to this report)


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