- (AFP) - Israel kept up its deadly military blitz in the
West Bank, in defiance of pressure from Washington, on the eve of a peace
mission to the region by US Secretary of State Colin Powell.
- Four Palestinians, including an eight-year-old boy, were
killed by Israeli fire in a refugee camp in the northern West Bank town
of Nablus early Saturday, Palestinian hospital sources said.
- Seven Palestinians were also wounded in the incident
in the Askar refugee camp, the sources said.
- The overnight deaths followed one of the deadliest days
in more than 18 months of Israeli-Palestinian violence.
- Israeli strikes killed at least 24 Palestinians,
a top militant leader, on Friday despite pressure from US President George
W. Bush for Israel to halt its military offensive in the West Bank and
withdraw its troops.
- Israeli officials shrugged off Bush's call, made in a
speech broadcast worldwide on Thursday amid global outrage over a siege
that has seen Israel retake six of eight major Palestinian towns.
- "Bush definitely asked for a withdrawal, but he
did not say 'immediate' withdrawal," spokesman Gideon Meir said. He
vowed any pullback would come "after having cleaned up the nest of
- Speculation was rife in the Israeli press that the army
would step up the assault and tighten its clampdown on the Palestinians
before Powell arrives with a mandate from Bush to try to stop the
- In the biggest military strike on Friday, helicopter
gunships unleashed a hail of missiles on a building in the West Bank
of Tubas, killing six members of the Islamic militant group Hamas inside,
a Palestinian official said.
- Among them was Qais Idwan, said to have masterminded
the deaths of 26 people in a suicide attack last week now called the
Massacre." Idwan was a top chief in the Hamas armed wing, the Ezzedine
Al Qassam Brigades.
- Bush largely kept mum on Israel's stepped up raids
Palestinians on Friday, while renewing his sharp criticism of Palestinian
Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat.
- "My worry is that Yasser Arafat can't perform. He's
been given plenty of opportunities," Bush told ITV television.
has let his people down, and there are others in the region who can
- Bush welcomed British Prime Minister Tony Blair to his
Texas ranch as the heightened Middle East violence pushed possible action
against Iraq from atop their weekend summit agenda.
- The meeting came a day after Bush ordered Powell to the
region from Sunday to pursue an elusive ceasefire.
- White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the top US
had "no plans" to meet with Arafat.
- Powell is expected to hold talks with Saudi Crown Prince
Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, Jordan's King Abdullah II, Egyptian President
Hosni Mubarak, as well as Sharon on his regional tour.
- Fleischer offered a muted answer to reporters seeking
a reaction to Israel's decision not only to shrug off Bush's appeal to
quit Palestinian territories but step up its offensive against suspected
- "The president recognizes that, in a region that's
been marred by violence for decades, major events don't necessarily happen
overnight," he said. "Obviously, nations in the region are going
to digest what he says."
- Still, "the president meant what he said and he
expects results," Fleischer told reporters. "The timetable is,
as soon as possible."
- Arafat won a diplomatic lifeline Friday when Israel
the barricade around his West Bank headquarters in Ramallah to let US envoy
Anthony Zinni meet him, but there were few details about the 90-minute
talks. Troops threw stun grenades at journalists trying to get to the
- Later, Palestinian sources reported that the Israeli
army had cut off the electricity supply to Arafat's besieged offices in
the West Bank town overnight.
- Elsewhere, explosions and gunfire were heard coming from
the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, where Palestinian gunmen holed
up for a third day ignored calls from the Israeli army besieging the
to come out.
- Four priests inside were evacuated for medical
but otherwise the standoff continued. Hundreds of people were reportedly
arrested in the Bethlehem area, including a senior Palestinian intelligence
- Anger and violence on the streets in Arab capitals, and
the threat to US interests worldwide as Washington tries to hold together
its own anti-terror coalition, have followed the Israeli military
- Israel has declared closed military areas in many areas,
making it impossible to confirm claims by Palestinian officials of more
than 100 dead in a week, but large parts of the West Bank have been
- Nearly 1,750 people have died, most of them Palestinians,
since the beginning of the Palestinian uprising in September 2000.
- There have been fears of a second front in the conflict
after several cross-border attacks from Lebanon in the past few
- Israeli air and ground forces hit southern Lebanon on
Friday, wounding two civilians, after Hezbollah guerrillas attacked Israeli
army posts in the disputed Shebaa Farms border area, police said.
- Arab states will try to overcome feuds among them and
bolster the Palestinians at an emergency meeting in Cairo over the
- Foreign ministers of the 22-member Arab League gathered
Friday night for a preparatory meeting to discuss the "explosive
in the occupied territories before a full session on Saturday, which was
called at the behest of the Palestinians.
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