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  Israeli tanks enter Nablus
Coffins carrying two U.S. victims of the Hebrew University bomb begin the final journey home
August 2, 2002 Posted: 3:48 AM EDT

NABLUS, West Bank (CNN) -- Israel launched a military operation in Palestinian-controlled Nablus early Friday morning, moving into the West Bank city with more than 150 armored vehicles, Palestinian security sources told CNN.

Apache helicopter gunships, tanks, armored personnel carriers and bulldozers were part of the Israeli force, along with other helicopter gunships and surveillance helicopters, the sources said.

The Israeli incursion follows Wednesday's bombing at Hebrew University in Jerusalem that killed two Israelis and five Americans.

The Israel Defense Forces said its troops entered the city center of Nablus and were conducting search-and-arrest operations.

The IDF said Palestinian gunmen opened fire on Israeli troops and that its forces returned fire. The IDF reported no injuries.

The Palestine Red Crescent Society said three Palestinians were killed in the fighting overnight -- two in Nablus and one in the village of Salem, near Nablus. Five Palestinians were also injured in Nablus, according to the Red Crescent.

IDF said Nablus "serves as a base of terror organizations' activity, headed by Hamas and the Fatah. These organizations carried out numerous terrorist attacks in Judea and Samaria recently, including a suicide attack."

Hamas claimed responsibility for Wednesday's bombing at Hebrew University, which it said was in retaliation for last week's Israeli missile strike in Gaza that killed the commander of the Hamas military wing and 14 other people, nine of them children.

The bomb -- believed to have been detonated by remote control was hidden in a handbag -- killed seven people when it exploded in a university cafeteria. Five of the victims were U.S. citizens.

Final journey

Just hours before the Israeli incursion, the bodies of two of the Americans killed started their final journey home.

The bodies of Janis Ruth Coulter and Benjamin Blutstein, 25, of Pennsylvania, encased in wooden coffins covered with floral wreaths, are scheduled to arrive at John F. Kennedy airport just before 6 a.m. EDT Friday.

Coulter, the assistant director of graduate studies for Hebrew University's Rothberg International School in New York, was in Israel escorting U.S. students.

Blutstein had been scheduled to return home Thursday after completing two years of a program at the university to become a Jewish studies teacher, Dan Kurtzer, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, said.

The other three Americans killed were identified as Marla Bennett, 24, of San Diego, California; Dina Carter, 37, a resident of Jerusalem; and David Gritz, 24, who also had French citizenship and had recently lived in Paris.

The two Israelis killed were David Diego Ladowski, 29, and Levina Shapira, 53, both from Jerusalem, according to Israel's Foreign Ministry.

Michael Melchior, Israel's deputy foreign minister said: "They had a belief in Jerusalem, a belief in the future, and this is our commitment to them -- that there will come that day when their internal peace shall also be great peace for all the future."

"They are part of a collective memory but also part of a collective obligation, to life and to future. May their memory be holy."

President Bush on Thursday characterized the attack as "murder" and said he was "just as angry as Israel is. I am furious that innocent lives were lost. (Full story)

A senior Bush administration official told CNN that the FBI has opened an investigation into the Hebrew University attack and is "actively cooperating with the Israeli government."

The U.S. State Department has labeled Hamas a terrorist organization. The group's military wing, Izzedine al Qassam, previously has admitted responsibility for terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians as well as attacks against the Israeli military.

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