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Thursday, 13 September, 2001, 15:50 GMT 16:50 UK
Tension grips West Bank towns
Israeli tank outside Jenin
Palestinians reported heavy fighting in Jenin and Jericho
Israeli troops are surrounding the West Bank towns of Jericho and Jenin following a night of fighting in both areas.

Palestinian officials said Israeli forces had killed three Palestinians and wounded 11 in overnight clashes in Jenin.

Israeli tanks had also rolled into the Palestinian-controlled town the previous night. At least seven Palestinians were reported killed in the earlier clashes.

Jenin and Jericho location map
Despite the violence, there are signs that the long anticipated meeting between Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres may take place in the next few days.

Mr Peres has said there is now a tentative agreement on where and when to hold the talks.

The news follows a telephone call to both sides by US Secretary of State Colin Powell on Wednesday.

But BBC Jerusalem correspondent Caroline Hawley says that even if the talks go ahead in the current poisoned atmosphere, there is absolutely no guarantee of success.

Heavy fighting

Palestinian officials said Israeli forces attacked a local government building in Jenin on Thursday.

Shimon Peres
Peres: Expected to meet Arafat soon
Heavy fighting was also reported further south in Jericho, where Palestinian officials said some 20 Israeli tanks accompanied by bulldozers made an incursion.

Loudspeakers on mosques called people out to defend the town against the invading Israeli forces, witnesses said.

The Israeli army said it had no comment on the reported incursion into Jericho.

"There is fierce resistance to the Israelis. The tanks are moving towards Palestinian headquarters, where all the Palestinian security offices are located," said Palestinian cabinet minister Saeb Erekat, a Jericho resident.

'Connected to US attacks'

Mr Erekat drew a connection between the incursions and the terror attacks in New York and Washington on Tuesday that destroyed the World Trade Center and damaged the Pentagon.

Suspected suicide bomber Muhammad Habashi
Israel says Jenin was a breeding ground for suicide bombers
"The Israelis are using the tragedy of the events in New York and Washington, feeling that the attention of the world is elsewhere," he said.

It was not immediately clear what the purpose of the latest Israeli incursion was, but the presence of the bulldozers indicated that they intended to tear down Palestinian structures.

The main official Palestinian buildings in the town are an old military base used as police headquarters and a prison.

Suicide bombers

Israel says Jenin has been a breeding ground for suicide bombers.

The Israeli prime minister's office called the town "a hornet's nest" from where it said at least six suicide bombing missions had been carried out since the Palestinian uprising began last September.

Israel says a suicide bomber who blew himself up in the Israeli coastal town of Nahariya on Sunday, killing three Israelis, had been trained by a Hamas cell based in Jenin.

The BBC's Caroline Hawley in Jerusalem
"Washington has called for restraint"
Israeli defence minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer
"What we did was self defense"
See also:

10 Sep 01 | Middle East
Israel's shock at Israeli bomber
09 Sep 01 | Middle East
In pictures: Mid-East bloodshed
08 Sep 01 | Middle East
Israel rockets Fatah building
29 Mar 01 | Middle East
Who are the suicide bombers?
09 Sep 01 | Middle East
Palestinian minister held
11 Sep 01 | Middle East
Prospects for Mid-East diplomacy
12 Sep 01 | Middle East
Israeli tanks raid Palestinian town
13 Sep 01 | Media reports
Middle East media split over attacks
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