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Sunday, 26 May, 2002, 23:07 GMT 00:07 UK
Israel steps up West Bank incursions
Israeli tank drives through Tulkarm on Saturday
Tanks remain poised to re-entre Tulkarm
Israeli troops have entered the town of Qalqilya in the West Bank and imposed a curfew.

It was the latest of a series of incursions into Palestinian towns to search for Palestinian militants.

Other Israeli units have meanwhile ended a brief incursion into Bethlehem, and a two-day operation in Tulkarm, where they shot dead a 55-year-old man as he stood on his balcony.

About 100 Palestinians have been arrested, most of them from Tulkarm which is still under curfew with armoured vehicles remaining on the edges of the town.

One Israeli reservist was killed in fierce fighting in Tulkarm on Saturday; two other soldiers and eight Palestinians were also wounded.

Palestinian militant attacks had declined since Israel's massive offensive across the West Bank in April, but now appear to be on the rise again with four suicide operations launched within a week.

Israeli radio reports the government has now approved "more intensive" military activity in Palestinian self-rule areas, including the deployment of troops inside the Palestinian areas for longer periods.

Return to Bethlehem

The army's raid on Bethlehem was the first time soldiers had entered the biblical town since their 39-day siege of the Church of the Nativity ended two weeks ago.

But Sunday's operation apparently ended in failure after troops failed to find a local Palestinian militant leader, Muhammad Shada of Islamic Jihad, whose house they had surrounded.

Palestinians grieve after the bodies of a Palestinian woman and her daughter arrive at hospital
The deaths of farm workers in Gaza have caused grief and anger
Only Mr Shada's family, including six children, emerged from the house after Israeli troops broadcast calls for his surrender through loudspeakers.

Witnesses, quoted by the AFP news agency, said the army later blew up Mr Shada's house.

The army also entered the nearby village of Doha, home of the 16-year-old Palestinian suicide bomber who struck the Israeli town of Rishon Letsion on Wednesday killing two Israelis.

Earlier, Israeli soldiers arrested a 16-year-old youth in the northern West Bank as he was travelling by taxi wearing an explosives belt, the standard kit of Palestinian suicide attackers.

In the Gaza Strip, a 45-year-old Palestinian woman and her 12-year-old niece were killed by Israeli tank fire as they were working in a field near the el-Bureij refugee camp.

The army blocked Palestinian ambulances from entering the area and the two died from their injuries, a Palestinian official said. The army expressed regret for the deaths.

Security shake-up

Palestinian newspaper reports say Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is on the verge of ratifying reforms of his sprawling security structure, which has been accused by Israel of failing to clamp down on militant attacks and actually planning some of them.

Al-Ayyam said the 12 organisations currently operating would be streamlined into four security branches which for the first time would be unified between the West Bank and Gaza.

Israeli papers are reporting secret meetings have taken place between US Central Intelligence Agency director George Tenet and Efraim Halevy, head of Israel's foreign intelligence service Mossad, to discuss Palestinian reforms.

The daily Yediot Aharanot suggests the US and Israelis want only three security organisations, each directly answerable to the political leadership.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has said he will not return to peace negotiations until the Palestinians carry out a complete overhaul of their administration, although Palestinian officials have dismissed this as a way of avoiding talks altogether.

At a news conference with French President Jacques Chirac in Paris, US President George W Bush said he was sending envoys back to the Middle East in the coming week to help re-launch the peace process.

He added that the US officials would work with both the Israelis and Palestinians to bring about a political dialogue - and help develop a Palestinian Authority security force which functioned like a security force.

Key stories




See also:

24 May 02 | Middle East
23 May 02 | Middle East
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