Israeli Helicopters Pour
Rockets Into Jenin Camp

By Matt Spetalnick

Israeli helicopters poured rocket fire on the Palestinian refugee camp in Jenin after residents refused to evacuate their homes amid bitter fighting, camp residents said.
As fierce battles raged on in Jenin, a Palestinian fighter was shot dead by Israeli forces besieging Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, where up to 200 Palestinian gunmen have sought sanctuary from Israel's swoop on self-rule towns.
In the narrow streets of Nablus' Old City, just south of Jenin, five more Palestinians were killed in intense clashes on Monday, including a 12-year-old boy and a 65-year-old man in the Asker refugee camp, medics said.
Palestinian security sources said Israel was gathering its forces round the centre of the northern West Bank city in apparent preparation for a final assault, as US pressure mounted on Israel to bring its operations to an end.
Local authorities say almost 50 Palestinians, both combatants and civilians, have been slain since Israel invaded the city last Wednesday, as part of its declared hunt for militant groups behind dozens of suicide bombings in Israel.
There was no sign the battles were over Monday as Prime Minister Ariel Sharon bucked US President George W. Bush's calls for an to end the operations "without delay," saying he would press on until the job was done.
Israel's chief of staff General Shaul Mofaz said Sunday the West Bank offensive, codenamed Operation Defensive Wall, would need at least four weeks to achieve its goal of dismantling extremist networks.
The epicentre of the fighting Monday was in Jenin, long branded a hotbed of militants by Israel, where a fifth day of battle showed no sign of letting up.
The Israeli army was calling on civilians by loudspeaker to leave the shattered refugee camp -- a poverty-stricken neighborhood for those who fled Israel after the 1948 war -- and move to the village of Al-Yamun until the battle has ended, residents said.
However, the residents told AFP by telephone that Israeli Apache helicopters resumed their heavy barrage of the camp with missiles when the people failed to respond to the call to muster in the central square or face renewed air strikes.
They said that dozens of dead could be lying in the rubble of homes destroyed by shelling or bulldozers, as the army ploughed down houses to clear roads for its forces to enter into the cramped alleyways of the camp.
The camp is home to around 11,000 people, and lies close to the northern border boundary between Israel and the West Bank.
In Bethlehem, where street battles had died down in past days, fighting broke out around the Nativity Church, marking the spot where Jesus was born. One Palestinian fighter was killed and two Israeli border guards injured.
The Palestinians said the dead man was killed while battling a fire in a building next to the church.
The Israelis blamed the Palestinians for the blaze and said the victim was slain during an exchange of gunfire as they tried to evacuate their own wounded.
Flames and a plume of black smoke could be seen rising from a building to the left of the besieged church facade after heavy gunfire mixed with the pealing of the basilica's bells.
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