Israeli Forces Raid Nablus, Arafat Free
By Atef Sa'ad

NABLUS, West Bank (Reuters) - Israeli forces raided the West Bank city of Nablus early on Friday as the United States stepped up diplomacy in an effort to cool the conflict.
In Washington, Secretary of State Colin Powell said preparations were under way for a Middle East peace conference this summer but no venue or precise date had yet been set.
A Palestinian policeman was killed in a gun battle that erupted as Israeli troops and armored vehicles thrust into the west and north of Nablus in a raid the army said was intended "to prevent terror attacks."
Israeli troops took over several buildings and were reported to be carrying out arrests. The army said in a statement its troops would withdraw at the end of the mission.
Palestinian President Yasser Arafat spent Thursday reveling in the adulation of Palestinian crowds following the end of Israel's one-month siege of his headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
In an interview with Reuters, Arafat took a diplomatic tack, saying he still saw Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as a partner for peace despite the destruction wrought on Palestinian areas by the Israeli military offensive.
"He is the person who has been elected by the Israelis and we are dealing with him... because our partner is the Israeli people," Arafat said.
Those words contrasted with his angry denunciation earlier in the day of the Israeli government as "Nazis, terrorists and racists."
President Bush put an optimistic spin on the crisis that has torn the region since the collapse of peace talks shortly before the outbreak of a Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation 19 months ago.
Bush, whose government is Israel's strongest ally, told a news conference after meeting European Union leaders that he believed progress was being made toward ending the violence and restarting talks on a Palestinian state.
He spoke about a U.S.-European vision of a Palestinian state living side by side in security with Israel.
But wagging his finger at both Sharon and Arafat, he cautioned: "A Palestinian state must be achieved by negotiating an end to occupation but such a state cannot be based on a foundation of terror or corruption."
Powell mentioned preparations for a summer conference on the Middle East after meeting U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and two European Union leaders -- the so-called "quartet" set up to co-ordinate the international effort to find peace.
"This is a time for prompt action to take advantage of this new window of opportunity that has been presented to us, and we intend to do just that," Powell said.
On the ground the two sides remained locked in confrontation, including the Israeli siege of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, continued action by Israeli forces in the West Bank and Gaza, and Israeli fears Palestinian militants could strike civilian targets at any time.
In Bethlehem, the church siege entered its second month with Israeli troops shooting dead one man they said was a militant and wounding two others who ventured into a courtyard.
Palestinian gunmen wanted by Israel ducked into the church, revered by Christians as the site of Jesus' birth, on April 2 to escape soldiers who had moved into Bethlehem.
Inside are dozens of civilians, clergymen and Palestinian security men whom Israel describes as hostages and Palestinians say are there voluntarily.
Bethlehem mayor, Hanna Nasser, said Palestinians had proposed the wanted militants be handed to Palestinian custody in Jericho under the supervision of U.S. and British monitors.
A similar deal over six wanted men accused of assassinating an Israeli cabinet minister last year secured the lifting of the siege of Arafat's headquarters this week.
Palestinians and their Arab allies were enraged over the collapse of a U.N. investigation into what they claim was a massacre by Israeli troops in the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank last month.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan disbanded the team after Israeli opposition. Arab nations pushed the United Nations to strongly criticize Israel for blocking the mission.
Israel said the terms of the investigation were stacked against it. Israel denies all allegations of massacres at Jenin and says deaths there were the result of heavy fighting as it rooted out a terrorist network.
International officials and human rights groups say they have found no evidence to back charges of massacres but say Israeli troops might have committed lesser violations of international norms.
Human Rights Watch said in a report on Friday it had identified 52 Palestinians killed during eight days of fierce house-to-house fighting at the camp, of whom 22 were civilians.
"Many of the civilians were killed willfully or unlawfully," it said. "Human Rights Watch also found that the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) used Palestinian civilians as human shields and used indiscriminate and excessive force during the operation."
But it added: "Human Rights Watch did not find evidence to support claims that the IDF massacred hundreds of Palestinians in the camp." Israel said seven of those killed in the camp were civilians.
At least 1,335 Palestinians as well as 458 Israelis have been killed since the Palestinian uprising began in September 2000.

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