IDF Besieges Church Of Nativity,
150 People Inside - Tanks Shell Homes

By Saud Abu Ramadan
United Press International

GAZA, April 3 (UPI) - The Israeli army offensive continued Wednesday in the West Bank as Israeli troops stormed the Jenin area, killing four Palestinians, Palestinian eyewitnesses said.

Witnesses said infantry troops supported by dozens of tanks and armored vehicles raided Jenin town and the adjacent refugee camp before dawn -- firing tanks shells and heavy gunfire at Palestinian houses.

Medical sources said the four slain Palestinians included a Palestinian nurse who was killed at her house on the boundaries of the camp. Her sister was seriously injured. The other three were militants.

Palestinians said one of the slain militants was Zeyad Amer, the Jenin commander of the al Aqsa Martyr's Brigades, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement's armed wing.

Residents said fierce clashes took place at the entrance of Jenin refugee camp. Palestinian militants damaged an Israeli armored vehicle and a bulldozer.

Militants also managed to prevent a special Israeli army undercover unit from entering the camp, residents said. Militants managed to take the rifles of three Israeli soldiers.

Israeli radio reported that one Israeli soldier was moderately injured during the attempt to raid the Jenin refugee camp.

The Israeli army offensive continued in the West Bank towns of Ramallah, Bethlehem and Tulkarim.

In Ramallah, Palestinians said Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is still confined in his office and remains totally disconnected from the outside world.

The Palestinians also said there is a shortage of food and medicine in the town, which has been under curfew since Friday.

In Bethlehem, Palestinians said the Church of Nativity was still besieged since Tuesday by the Israeli army, where there are about 150 residents are sheltering inside. The Church of Nativity is one of the holiest sites in Christianity.

Witnesses said there were bodies in front of the church.

"Can you imagine? Can you believe it? They are attacking the Church of Nativity, the Syrian Orthodox Church, and burn and demolish mosques," Arafat said in an interview with Qatari television.

Israel accused the gunmen of shooting from inside the holy site, a charge the Palestinians denied.

Palestinian sources said Israeli troops threatened to break into the church. Witnesses said the Israeli army is bringing more infantry troops and armored vehicles to the area.

Arafat must be totally isolated in his headquarters to completely eliminate terrorist activities but would be allowed to leave the Palestinian territories in exile, never to return, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said earlier Tuesday.

Sharon, in comments made to reporters after visiting West Bank army bases, said he had received several telephone calls from heads of state and from the European Union's envoy Miguel Moratinos, who expressed concern about Arafat's situation.

"When they expressed their worries about the difficulties that Arafat is (facing) now, I told them that if they would like that, we will bring him somewhere, or they will come in a helicopter and will take him from here."

"First I would have to bring this to the Cabinet, second he can't take anyone with him, the murderers who are located around him there, and the third thing is that it would have to be a one-way ticket," Sharon said. "He will not be able to return."

Palestinian Cabinet Minister Saeb Erekat said Tuesday that Arafat had rejected Sharon's offer of exile.

Erekat said Sharon's statement "is a preparation to kill President Arafat in the coming days."

"President Arafat said and he says that he would never leave Ramallah under any circumstances, and he prefers to stay with his people and die among his people," said Erekat.

Another indication of Sharon's thoughts, however, came when Channel 1 TV's microphones picked up a brief exchange with military Chief of General Staff, Lt. Gov. Shaul Mofaz during the news conference.

"He (Arafat) ought to be kicked out," Mofaz advised quietly.

Sharon chuckled. "I know," he said.

"This is an opportunity. Now. There is no other opportunity," Mofaz pressed.

Israel has promised the United States not to hurt Arafat, but soldiers are laying siege to what remains of his headquarters.

Palestinian sources in Ramallah said Israeli troops had refused to let water and food supplies inside. Sharon said Arafat could use electricity but apparently chooses to use candles.

The Israeli army lifted for two hours a curfew imposed on Ramallah since Friday to allow the residents to buy food, medicine and gas. Medical officials used the time to bury the bodies of 25 Palestinians who had been kept into the hospital's refrigerators since Friday.

In Gaza, the Israeli army Tuesday expanded its military offensive in West Bank towns, villages and refugee camps, killing and wounding an undetermined number of Palestinians, witnesses, medical and security sources said.

Palestinians in Ramallah said about 15 tanks and two helicopters attacked the main headquarters of the Palestinian preventive security in the adjacent town of Bitonia in attempt to arrest Palestinian fugitives on an Israeli wanted list.

Israeli security sources said among the people in the building targeted was the most-wanted man in the West Bank, Marwan Barghouti, a leader of Arafat's Fatah faction.

Palestinian security sources said the Israeli siege was centered on the main headquarters of the Palestinian preventive security and ended when some 400 Palestinians, mainly security officers, surrendered and were arrested by Israeli troops.

The crisis ended after negotiations through CIA mediators, Palestinian and Israeli security officials said. The Palestinian security officers were taken to detention camps for interrogation and a senior Preventative security official told United Press International under the deal they would be detained for 24 hours to determine whether any of them are wanted by Israel.

Unconfirmed medical reports said during fighting between dozens of militants and security officers at least 30 Palestinians may have been killed and injured, including five women who reportedly were dead.

"It is hard to know specifically how many people were killed and how many were injured in the building, because of the tightened curfew imposed on the area and because tanks prevent us from reaching the area," a Palestinian nurse told United Press International.
With reporting by Joshua Brilliant reported from Tel Aviv, Israel.

Email This Article


This Site Served by TheHostPros