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Wednesday, 3 April, 2002, 06:11 GMT 07:11 UK
Israelis broaden West Bank offensive
Ramallah street
The Ramallah curfew was lifted for a few hours
Israeli forces have extended their military operations in the West Bank, with columns of tanks sweeping into the towns of Jenin and Salfit, near Nablus.

There was heavy shooting as at least 30 tanks headed for the centre of Jenin early on Wednesday morning.

A Palestinian woman was reported to have been killed after being hit by a bullet.

In Bethlehem, more than 100 armed Palestinian police and militia are reported to have taken refuge in the Church of the Nativity - built on the spot where Christians believe Jesus was born.

They fled there after fighting running battles with Israeli forces, now deployed outside the church.

The United Nations agency responsible for Palestinian refugees says thousands of people throughout the West Bank have been trapped with dwindling supplies of food and water.

Late on Tuesday US President George W Bush urged all those who "yearn for peace" in the Middle East to work to stop "the terrorist activities".

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon spoke of the possibility of exiling Yasser Arafat - a proposal rejected by the Palestinian leader who is trapped in Ramallah.

Chasing militants

For a sixth day Israeli tanks pushed forward in operations the Israelis say aim to wipe out militant networks behind the recent wave of suicide bomb attacks.

The Israeli army has been waiting to go in to Jenin for some time and knew there would be some heavy resistance

Israeli military spokeswoman

At least two suicide bombers have come from Jenin - a stronghold of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade linked to Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement.

"The Israeli army has been waiting to go in to Jenin for some time and knew there would be some heavy resistance," an army spokeswoman said.

The Israeli army has already reoccupied Bethlehem and Ramallah, as well as the towns of Qalqilya and Tulkarm.

Three Palestinian gunman and at least four non-combatants were said to have been killed by Israeli fire in Bethlehem.

Ramallah surrender

Earlier, tanks and helicopter gunships blitzed the Ramallah headquarters of Palestinian preventative security chief Jibril Rajoub, setting buildings ablaze and causing an unknown number of casualties among the 400 people said to be inside.

Ariel Sharon
Sharon offered Arafat a "one-way ticket" out of Ramallah
The people holed up inside the security compound then surrendered in a US-brokered ceasefire.

Israel accused Mr Rajoub of sheltering dozens of fighters in his headquarters, but the security chief said the people inside the building were officials, women employees and three children.

Israel media reported that the army's main target in the compound was the commander of Fatah in the West Bank, Marwan Barghouti, who Israel accuses of involvement in recent militant attacks.

Life under curfew

Officials at Ramallah's central hospital say they have started burying corpses of people killed during Israel's invasion in the hospital grounds because the morgue was full and travel to the cemetery was blocked.

Jibril Rajoub
Rajoub said there were no militants in his compound
"We have found 28 bodies of people killed by Israelis so far. We are burying them in the garden because the ambulances cannot take them out," hospital administrator Mussa Abu Hmed told AFP.

The Palestinian Red Crescent complains of being unable to answer hundreds of calls it has received from the sick in Ramallah, while a convoy carrying its regional chief was detained and abused by the army.

"The behaviour toward the medical teams and to the sick and injured has been appalling," Red Crescent official Husam Sharkawi told the BBC.

The Israeli prime minister says his army's actions are aimed at eliminating once and for all what he calls a terrorist infrastructure.

The BBC's Caroline Hawley
"The streets of the West Bank are empty"
Mustafa Bargouthi, Palestinian Medical Relief
"They are shooting at our ambulances"
Daniel Shek, Israeli Government spokesman
"We are going after the terrorists"
See also:

02 Apr 02 | Middle East
Analysis: Arafat under attack
03 Apr 02 | Middle East
Israel raids Hezbollah positions
02 Apr 02 | Middle East
Israel considers exiling Arafat
25 Mar 02 | Middle East
Profile: Jibril Rajoub
01 Apr 02 | Middle East
Israeli papers demand clearer goals
01 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
Israel 'dragging Mid-East into war'
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