Israeli Troops Kill Nine In Hebron Raid
By Mazen Dana

HEBRON, West Bank (Reuters) - Israeli forces thrust into the West Bank city of Hebron Monday, killing nine people, ahead of talks on a U.S. plan to end Israel's month-long siege of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat's compound.
An Israeli field commander said soldiers detained about 200 people for questioning in the sweep for Palestinian militants and arms, two days after gunmen killed four Israelis, including a five-year-old girl, in a Jewish settlement near Hebron.
An Israeli sniper shot dead a Palestinian militant in the grounds of Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity and a Palestinian official said 18 civilians might leave the besieged shrine.
Israel launched the Hebron incursion hours after accepting a proposal by President Bush that would restore Arafat's freedom of movement and remove Israeli forces from Ramallah.
The Jewish state was still resisting a U.N. mission to the ravaged Jenin refugee camp as U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan strove to overcome its objections to the fact-finding team that has been cooling its heels in Geneva since Wednesday.
Under Bush's plan, Israel will let Arafat travel freely. U.S. and British security personnel will guard six men whose extradition Israel had demanded.
Palestinian officials in the West Bank met British experts Monday to discuss practical details.
The officials said the men might be jailed in Jericho, the only West Bank city unscathed in the assault Israel launched on March 29 after suicide attacks killed scores of Israelis.
Palestinian security sources said nine people, including at least two militants and three security men, were killed after Israeli forces backed by helicopter gunships surged into Hebron overnight and began house-to-house searches.
Colonel Moshe Hager, an Israeli field commander in Hebron, told Israel Radio: "The city is now under (our) control and curfew...and we are preparing for the next round of arrests."
He said some of militants wanted by Israel had fled the city in anticipation of the operation after Saturday's Palestinian attack on the settlement of Adora.
Israeli tanks and armored vehicles prowled the hilly streets of Hebron, where some 400 militant Jewish settlers live in heavily guarded enclaves among 120,000 Palestinians.
Troops ransacked homes, smashing equipment and emptying cupboards, amid loudspeaker warnings a curfew was in force.
"They damaged everything. The children were crying," Ahmed Atiya, a 31-year-old Palestinian policeman said.
He told Reuters 10 soldiers had smashed through his front door. All men of fighting age had been ordered to stand in the street with their hands raised for more than two hours.
"We did not go there to stay there," Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer told reporters. "We went there to damage the terror infrastructure and to leave."
In Bethlehem, an army ambulance removed the body of a member of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an armed group in Arafat's Fatah faction, after an Israeli sniper shot him dead.
A Palestinian source named him as Nidal Abayat, 28, and said he had been standing in the garden of the Church of the Nativity. An army spokesman said the man had been armed.
But in a sign of movement in the 27-day-old standoff, a Palestinian negotiator said 18 civilians were likely to leave the compound by agreement with the Israelis.
About 30 Palestinian fighters wanted by Israel took refuge in the sanctuary on April 2 to evade advancing Israeli troops.
Dozens of Christian clerics and other civilians are in the shrine, which Israel has said it will besiege until the gunmen surrender to face trial in Israel or be exiled. Palestinian officials say they should be sent to the Gaza Strip.
Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo said he expected Arafat's confinement to end Tuesday after details of Bush's plan had been worked out.
Four of the men sought by Israel were convicted last week by a military court in Arafat's compound for the October 17 killing of ultra-nationalist Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi.
Israel had also demanded the handover of Fuad Shobaki, an Arafat aide suspected of trying to smuggle arms by sea from Iran to Palestinian territories, and Ahmed Saadat, leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).
The PFLP said it had killed Zeevi in revenge for Israel's killing of its then leader, Abu Ali Mustafa.
The Islamic Hamas movement denounced the U.S. deal as "a new submission to Israeli and American demands and terms."
In a statement received in Beirut, Hamas said: "Attempts to focus all attention and efforts on lifting the siege on Yasser Arafat disgracefully dwarfs the Palestinian cause."
Israel has pulled troops back from most West Bank cities, which remain encircled. But it has dug in its heels over a proposed U.N. fact-finding mission to Jenin refugee camp.
In New York, the United Nations Security Council gave a frustrated Annan another day to resolve the impasse.
Foreign Minister Shimon Peres again said Israel had nothing to hide at the camp, scene of the heaviest fighting in the West Bank offensive, but was concerned for Israeli witnesses.
"We can't tell our soldiers: 'You volunteer, you fight, on top of that you have to take lawyers,"' he said late Sunday.
Bush said he now expected the Palestinian leader to do more to halt anti-Israel violence. "Mr. Arafat must perform," Bush told reporters in Texas. "He must earn my respect by leading."
At least 1,325 Palestinians and 458 Israelis have been killed since the Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation started in September 2000 after peace negotiations stalled. (Additional reporting by Christine Hauser in Ramallah and Michael Georgy in Bethlehem)

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