Sharon Rejects Bush's Personal
Appeal To Withdraw

By Jeffrey Heller

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon stuck to his guns on Sunday in the face of a personal appeal by President Bush to pull Israeli forces out of Palestinian cities.
The Israeli army's chief spokesman, Brigadier-General Ron Kitrey, said the military had received no orders to change its battle plan despite a telephone call from Bush to Sharon on Saturday night.
"At the moment, things are going ahead as we planned," Kitrey told Army Radio about a 10-day-old sweeping offensive in the West Bank that began after a Palestinian suicide bomber struck in an Israeli hotel during a Passover holiday meal.
In the West Bank city of Nablus, Israeli Apache helicopters and tanks fired on Palestinian targets early on Sunday, witnesses said. Meanwhile, the death toll from the Passover blast rose to 27 after an 88-year-old woman died of her wounds.
In fierce fighting on Saturday, soldiers and gunmen battled alley by alley in the crowded Jenin refugee camp.
The Israeli army said at least 14 Palestinians and seven Israeli soldiers had been killed in the past 48 hours in Jenin, a stronghold of Palestinian militants.
A Palestinian fighter told Reuters he had counted 30 dead bodies in the Jenin camp. The accounts could not be independently confirmed because Israeli authorities had declared the camp off-limits to journalists.
In a test of wills with Washington's chief Middle East ally, Bush demanded a pullback "without delay," but Sharon stopped short of promising an immediate end to an operation in which scores of Palestinians and 13 Israeli troops have been killed.
Bush told Sharon a renewed U.S. peace mission was at stake, a senior administration official said. Secretary of State Colin Powell will visit the Middle East this week in a bid to revive cease-fire talks.
Israeli commentators forecast the offensive, which has turned Palestinian city centers into war zones and confined hundreds of thousands of frightened residents to their homes, would continue for at least another week.
Opinion polls show that Israelis, rocked by suicide bombings that have deepened fears that no place in Israel is safe, overwhelmingly support the operation.
"I expect Israel to heed my advice," Bush said at a Texas news conference on Saturday with visiting British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who the president said shared his view.
But Sharon promised only to end the campaign "as expeditiously as possible," the senior U.S. official said. Sharon's office said he told Bush that "Israel will make every effort to accelerate" the operation.
Amid mounting European and Arab calls for Israel to end the assaults and withdraw, Bush -- who had put much of the onus on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to stop the violence -- has toughened his message to Sharon.
The Palestinian Authority sought international intervention to stop what it called Israeli massacres in the Jenin refugee camp. The Israeli army dismissed the accusation as "nonsense" and said it was doing its utmost to avoid civilian casualties.
At least 18 Palestinians and one Israeli soldier were reported killed in other parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip on Saturday, Palestinian or Israeli sources said, in addition to 25 killed on Friday.
Israeli Air Force commander Major-General Dan Halutz said Israel has 1,200 people under arrest, of whom 100 were on Israel's wanted list, and that the offensive had already led to a sharp reduction in "terror attacks."
But Palestinians charged that innocent civilians were bearing the brunt of the Israeli military campaign.
A senior aide to Yasser Arafat said Israeli forces shelled the Palestinian leader's besieged West Bank headquarters on Saturday, wounding four presidential bodyguards. Arafat was unhurt.
The army, which has trapped Arafat in his Ramallah offices, said it had fired an anti-tank missile in response to "repeated shooting from Arafat's compound."
While stepping up pressure on Sharon, Bush also kept up his sharp criticism of Arafat, saying he had failed the test of leadership by not halting attacks against Israel. "He never earned my trust because he hasn't performed," Bush said.
Senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told Reuters that other Palestinian officials would refuse to meet Powell next week if the U.S. secretary of state chose not to see Arafat.
A White House spokesman said on Friday Powell had no plans "at this moment" to meet Arafat, but Powell said that did not mean there would be no such plans in due course.
Fueling fears the conflict could spread, Israeli jets and artillery struck back after Lebanese Hizbollah guerrillas fired mortar rounds and rockets at a border village in the Israeli-held Golan Heights, Israeli military sources said.
Israel Radio said four people were injured on the Israeli side.
At least 1,207 Palestinians and 420 Israelis have been killed since a Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation began in September 2000 after peace talks stalled.

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