- JENIN, West Bank (Reuters)
- Fierce fighting raged in the West Bank on Saturday as Israel pushed ahead
with its military offensive, undaunted by a U.S. call for a withdrawal
of its armor and troops from Palestinian areas.
- Soldiers and gunmen battled alley by alley in the crowded
Jenin refugee camp, where heavy casualties were reported just days before
Secretary of State Colin Powell was due in the region on a mission aimed
at halting the spiral of violence.
- President Bush himself promised on Saturday to mount
an all-our effort to settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but said he
had "no illusions about the difficulty" of achieving that goal.
- The Israeli army said at least 14 Palestinians and seven
Israeli soldiers had been killed in the last 48 hours in Jenin in what
a spokesman called "very intense fighting."
- A Palestinian fighter told Reuters he had counted 30
dead bodies in the camp. The accounts could not be independently confirmed
because Israeli authorities had declared the camp off-limits to journalists.
- Sami Mshasha, a spokesman for the U.N. agency for Palestinian
refugees, told Reuters his field reports indicated there had been "tens
of camp residents killed, scores injured and an unidentified number of
- The Palestinian Authority called for international intervention
to stop what it called Israeli "massacres" in the Jenin camp,
a key stronghold of Palestinian militants. The Israeli army dismissed the
claim as propaganda.
- At least 17 Palestinians and one Israeli soldier were
reported killed elsewhere in the West Bank and Gaza strip on Saturday,
Palestinian or Israeli sources said, in addition to 25 reported dead on
Friday, one of the heaviest daily death tolls so far in the eight-day-old
- POWELL CALL
- Powell, toughening a call made earlier by Bush, said
on Friday Israel should withdraw its forces from reoccupied Palestinian
areas "without delay" and not use the days before his arrival
to continue military incursions.
- Senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told Reuters
that if Powell chose not to meet besieged Palestinian President Yasser
Arafat when he visits next week then other Palestinian officials would
refuse to meet Powell.
- A White House spokesman said on Friday Powell had no
plans "at this moment" to meet Arafat, besieged by Israeli forces
at his headquarters in Ramallah on the West Bank, but Powell said that
did not mean there would no such plans in due course.
- The Palestinian Authority warned in a statement that
"the Sabra and Shatila massacres are being repeated in the Jenin camp,"
a reference to the massacre of hundreds of refugees in Beirut camps by
pro-Israeli Christian militiamen during Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon.
- The Israeli army dismissed the accusation as "nonsense"
and said it was doing its utmost to avoid civilian casualties. "Any
claim of intentional killing is absolutely baseless and a lie, it's pure
unadulterated propaganda," a spokesman said.
- Israeli forces pushed into West Bank cities eight days
ago in an offensive they say is aimed at finding those responsible for
a wave of attacks on Israelis.
- The drive began two days after a devastating suicide
bombing which killed 26 people in the coastal city of Netanya at the start
of the Jewish holiday of Passover last week.
- DESPERATE FIGHTING
- The commander of Israeli forces in the area said there
had been many Palestinian casualties at the Jenin camp.
- "They (Palestinian fighters) have their backs against
the walls...Those that don't surrender, we will kill them," Brigadier-General
Tat Aluf Eyal Shlein said on Israel Radio.
- Palestinians speaking by telephone reported seeing dead
and wounded in the streets of the camp. They said there had been bombardment
throughout the night by tanks and helicopters.
- "I myself counted 30 dead bodies," said Abu
Irmaila, a Palestinian fighter contacted by Reuters. "We will not
give up until the last fighter."
- The fighting raged on despite the increasingly insistent
calls from the United States, Israel's closest ally and provider of $3
billion in annual aid, for Israel to halt the offensive.
- In Ramallah, hospital sources said a 55-year-old Palestinian
baker died after being shot on his way to his bakery to make bread ahead
of the lifting of the Israeli-imposed curfew.
- The army said another four Palestinians were killed on
Saturday as they laid roadside mines near a refugee camp close to Nablus.
Palestinian sources three other Palestinians were killed in the Nablus
area and four in the Hebron area.
- In the Gaza strip, Israeli soldiers opened fire at the
Rafah refugee camp, killing a six-year-old Palestinian schoolgirl, a 21-year-old
civilian and wounding six others, including four schoolgirls, witnesses
and medical officials said.
- The army said there were exchanges of fire in the area
but it was not aware of anyone hit.
- The army said an Israeli soldier was killed and five
soldiers wounded in Gaza in a clash with Palestinians trying to sneak into
a Jewish settlement to carry out an attack. The two infiltrators were killed,
- A stand-off between Israeli soldiers surrounding Bethlehem's
Church of the Nativity and armed Palestinians inside entered its fifth
day on Saturday. Dozens of Christian clerics were also trapped in the church.
- At least 1,206 Palestinians and 419 Israelis have been
killed since the Palestinian uprising against occupation began in September
2000 after peace negotiations deadlocked.