Israel Launches Major Assault
On Jenin Refugee Camp


JENIN, West Bank (CNN) -- Israeli troops launched a major assault early Monday against the refugee camp in the West Bank town of Jenin, witnesses said.
Around 12:30 a.m. (6:30 p.m. Sunday EDT), the Israeli forces used loudspeakers to call on residents to evacuate, saying they were preparing to bomb the camp. Some residents refused to leave and were evacuated by force, but a majority were still in the camp when the bombing began, according to residents who spoke to CNN.
Israeli helicopter gunships fired about 19 missiles into the camp since the action began around 1 a.m., witnesses said. Israeli military officials would not confirm that missiles were fired.
An Israeli military statement said Israeli troops had ordered militants to surrender so they could search the camp. They said the troops had found explosives, Qassam rockets and an unexploded car bomb in the search.
The Jenin camp, which covers less than a square mile, is home to about 15,000 people.
Latest developments
* U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell says he would meet with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on his Mideast trip "if circumstances permit."
* An Israeli army spokesman said Sunday he expected the Israeli operations in Nablus and Jenin to end "today or tomorrow."
* U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said President Bush wants Israel to begin its withdrawal "now."
* Israel launched air attacks against suspected Hezbollah hideouts in southern Lebanon on Sunday more attacks on Israeli positions near the Israeli-Lebanon border.
* A 27th victim of the Passover suicide bombing in the Israeli coastal town of Netanya has died, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said.
The attack comes after Israeli officials said they expected to complete their offensive in Jenin and Nablus, the largest city in the West Bank, within days under heavy U.S. and international pressure for a withdrawal.
"I expect it to end today or tomorrow," Maj. Gen. Dan Harel, head of the Israeli army's operations section said Sunday. "It depends on the amount of civilians that are within the area. We don't want to hurt them, so we are working very slowly."
Israeli troops have taken control of six Palestinian towns in the West Bank since the offensive began March 29. The offensive began during a wave of Palestinian suicide bombings during the Passover holiday. Israeli officials have said their goal is to capture the terrorists' weapons and destroy their bomb-making capability.
President Bush on Saturday called for an Israeli pullout "without delay" and delivered the message personally in a phone call to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. In response, Sharon issued a statement that said Israel was conscious of the U.S. desire for it to wrap up the offensive "as expeditiously as possible."
As Israel launched the early-morning assault, the U.N. Security Council repeated its call for Israeli forces to pull out of Palestinian cities without delay. But Sunday, Israeli military officials said they had received no orders from the government to halt their operations.
At Sunday's weekly Cabinet meeting, Sharon said the army operations were "decisive" to Israel's hopes of living in peace, and made no mention of a timetable for a withdrawal.
But Condoleezza Rice, Bush's national security adviser, told CNN that Bush made it clear that the United States wanted Israel to begin its withdrawal "now."
"Obviously, the withdrawal has to be orderly," Rice said. "The president understands that, anyone understands that. But the president needs to see results and to see that happening as soon as possible. 'Without delay' means without delay."
Sharon said Sunday that a 27th victim of the Passover suicide bombing in the Israeli coastal town of Netanya had died. The Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas claimed responsibility for the blast that ripped through a hotel dining room during a Passover Seder on March 27.
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell was scheduled depart for the region Sunday to push for a cease-fire. He said he has no firm plans to meet with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, but would do so "if circumstances permit." (Full story)
Palestinian Authority chief negotiator Saeb Erakat said he welcomed Powell's visit, but said the Bush administration should accept that Arafat is the elected leader of the Palestinian people.
"I'm really disappointed at President Bush ... It's absolutely unacceptable to see President Bush try to delegitimize President Arafat," Erakat said.
Israeli operations continued Sunday in Nablus, the West Bank's largest city, and continued operations in the old town in the western part of the city. An army spokesman said more than 30 armed Palestinian gunmen and militants responsible for detonating bombs had been killed in the past two days in Nablus.
The Israel Defense Forces said troops were continuing operations in a number of villages, including Tulkarem, Ramallah, Qalqilya and Bethlehem. Clashes also occurred along Israel's border with Lebanon, as suspected Hezbollah guerrillas fired mortar shells and anti-tank missiles at Israeli army outposts at the foot of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
The United Nations called for restraint as Israel responded by launching airstrikes against targets in southern Lebanon. (Full story)
The IDF says 12 Israeli soldiers have been killed and 143 have been wounded since the West Bank offensive began March 29. Of the 1,413 Palestinians detained in the incursions, the IDF said 361 were on an Israeli "wanted list" of suspected Palestinian terrorists. Seventy of them were "seriously wanted" men, Israeli Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Shaul Mofaz said Sunday.
Mofaz said about 200 Palestinians have died and 1,500 have been wounded in the last 10 days. Hassan Abdel Rahman, the Palestinian representative to the United States, put the Palestinian death toll at 250 and said many were women and children.
The crisis has sparked demonstrations in cities from New York to Sydney and Paris to Jakarta. While many have been pro-Palestinian, about 50,000 people marched in Paris to protest recent attacks on Jewish schools, cemeteries and synagogues in France. Several hundred pro-Israeli demonstrators and counter-demonstrators clashed during the rally before police broke the fight up. (Full story)

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