Israelis, Palestinians Battle
Alley By Alley In West Bank

By Wael al-Ahmad

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 shelters destroyed."
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 Israeli offensive.
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.
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, it said.
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.

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