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Thursday, 14 February, 2002, 00:43 GMT
Fresh incursion in Gaza
Tank in the Beit Hanoun town on Wednesday 13 February
Israel says large-scale incursions will continue
Israeli forces have killed six Palestinians in a day of large-scale military incursions in the Gaza Strip.

Israel says it will keep launching such attacks until it finds Palestinian rocket factories.

This is a threat we cannot tolerate

Ephraim Sneh
Israeli cabinet minister

The United States has also been pressing the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, to crack down on militants.

On Wednesday the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, said Mr Arafat had accepted responsibility as chairman of the Palestinian Authority for an attempt to smuggle in arms from Iran.

The arms shipment was intercepted by Israel last month on board the vessel Karine-A in the Red Sea.

"He wrote me a letter three days ago on the Karine-A, accepting responsibility - not personal responsibility, but as chairman of the Palestinian Authority," Mr Powell said.

Click here for map of Gaza Strip

Israel's latest incursions came after it accused Palestinian Hamas militants of firing a new kind of rocket - the Qassam-2 - on Sunday.

UK's Straw meets Arafat

Mr Arafat, who remains besieged in his West Bank headquarters at Ramallah, received UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw late on Wednesday.

Mr Straw has urged him to take the first step towards resurrecting the Middle East peace process by arresting militants attacking Israel.

The BBC's Rachel Harvey says Mr Straw's comments are almost identical to US remarks and contrast with the views of many European countries who have accused Washington of being biased towards Israel.

Further incursions

Israeli army radio said troops killed an armed Palestinian late on Wednesday near the Jewish settlement of Morag in the south of the Gaza Strip.
Israeli soldier guards Palestinians at Erez checkpoint
Prisoners were taken back to Israel

Five Palestinians were killed earlier after Israeli tanks raided three towns and a refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. They withdrew after arresting several alleged militants.

But Palestinian sources said Israeli tanks later staged a new raid into the town of Deir el-Balah in the southern Gaza Strip.

Israeli Cabinet Minister Ephraim Sneh said soldiers would remain in Palestinian-controlled areas until the rocket factories were found.

If rocket attacks persisted, he said, Israel would launch bigger raids - although the Israelis have faced increasing international criticism over the severity of their retaliation.

"This is a threat we cannot tolerate," Mr Sneh said.

EU in disarray

Palestinian officials accused Israel of intensifying the conflict.
UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat
Mr Straw said Mr Arafat must take the first step towards peace

Responding to the UK foreign secretary's calls, Mr Arafat said he remained committed to the "peace of the brave" but Israel was spoiling his efforts.

After talks with Israeli officials, Mr Straw urged the European Union not to break ranks with Washington in its strategy towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Our correspondent says that, on the face of it, Britain seems to be lining up squarely behind the United States - but this is a view some European leaders find extremely uncomfortable, claiming the US position is weighted too much in favour of Israel.

Peace plan rejected

On Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Defence Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer dismissed a peace plan drawn up by Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, and a top Palestinian official, Ahmed Qorei.

The plan called for a Palestinian state within a year.

Mr Peres said that at first, the state would include territory already under full or partial control of the Palestinian Authority - about two-thirds of the Gaza Strip and 40% of the West Bank.

Under the agreement, Palestinian militant groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which reject any peace deal with Israel, would be disbanded.

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The BBC's James Robbins in Ramallah
"The Foreign Secretary had to drive past Israeli tanks"
See also:

13 Feb 02 | Middle East
Analysis: EU split on Mid-East
13 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Straw urges Arafat to halt violence
12 Feb 02 | Middle East
Annan calls for Mid-East dialogue
12 Feb 02 | Middle East
Hamas' potent new threat
13 Feb 02 | Middle East
The Peres peace plan
10 Jan 02 | Middle East
Weapons ship mystery deepens
08 Jan 02 | Middle East
US shift on Israeli arms seizure
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