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Saturday, 15 December, 2001, 08:15 GMT
Israeli tanks occupy Gaza town
Gaza has been hit for three nights running
Israeli tanks and bulldozers have moved into the town of Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip, amid an escalation of violence across the Palestinian territory.

In southern Gaza, the Israeli army shot dead a Palestinian man who they said was trying to infiltrate the Jewish settlement of Gush Katif, possibly on a suicide mission. There has been no confirmation that he was carrying explosives.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's compound in Gaza City suffered a third night of Israeli air strikes, and Israeli tanks are also reported to have entered Rafah in the south of Gaza.

In a separate development, early on Saturday the United States vetoed a UN Security Council resolution which condemned "acts of terror" against Israelis and Palestinians and called for UN monitors in the region.

US Ambassador John Negroponte said the Palestinian-backed resolution was aimed at isolating Israel and did not mentioned the recent suicide attacks against Israelis.

Deep incursion

F-16s dropped at least two bombs, damaging a building used by Mr Arafat's elite commando squad, Force 17.

A man looks into a child┐s room in a demolished house
On Friday, Israeli bulldozers demolished 10 homes in the Gaza Strip
Israeli army sources it was a direct response to the firing of two mortars into a Jewish settlement in northern Gaza.

At least 15 Israeli tanks, as well as armed patrols, took up positions in the centre of Beit Hanoun, more than six kilometres (four miles) inside Palestinian territory.

Palestinian officials said Israeli troops shot and wounded four Palestinian policemen in the village.

Eyewitnesses said a number of men were called out of their houses by Israeli troops, and the home of the leader of the military wing of the radical Islamic group Hamas, Salah Shihada, was raided and searched.

Local residents were ordered to stay indoors.

Militants targeted

The Hamas commander is currently in hiding, but Palestinian officials said Israeli troops had arrested at least three militants from from the group, which has claimed to be behind a series of recent suicide attacks that have killed scores of Israelis.

Israel says the action against militants is made necessary by the failure of Mr Arafat and the Palestinian Authority to control those responsible for violence against Israelis.

Israel needs a partner to negotiate with ... this partner is the Palestinian Authority and its elected president, Yasser Arafat

EU summit statement

The Palestinian Authority says it is doing its best to arrest militants but that military action by Israel has made that task all the more difficult.

Israel launched a major round-up of alleged militants early on Friday in four West Bank villages under Palestinian rule.

Eight Palestinians died in gun battles with the Israelis, who demolished two homes and arrested about 50 suspected militants.

The biggest raid was in Salfit, near Nablus, where Israeli troops killed six Palestinian policemen.

In a speech during a demonstration in the Syrian capital Damascus, Hamas political leader Khaled Meshaal issued a warning to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

"Each time Sharon commits a massacre, the response will come in Jerusalem, in Haifa," said Mr Meshaal, referring to the scenes of recent attacks by Palestinian militants against Israel.

US mission

US Middle East envoy Anthony Zinni has left Israel for talks in Jordan and then Egypt.

He might then return to Washington, US officials said.

US President George Bush said Mr Zinni's job was being made tougher because Mr Arafat was reluctant to round up "killers and people who would derail the peace process".

Earlier this week, Israel announced that it was breaking off all ties with Mr Arafat.

The European Union signalled its disapproval of Israeli strategy on Friday, condemning the country's attempts to marginalise Mr Arafat.

A statement from the EU summit in the Brussels suburb of Laeken said Israel "needs a partner to negotiate with ... this partner is the Palestinian Authority and its elected president, Yasser Arafat".

The BBC's James Reynolds
"A third night of Israeli strikes"
The BBC's Kylie Morris
"They're certainly putting pressure on Yasser Arafat"
Ghassan Khatib, Palestinian political analyst
"As long as the Palestinians see (Arafat) as leader... he will remain relevant"
See also:

13 Dec 01 | Middle East
Palestinian leader's house raided
13 Dec 01 | Media reports
Palestinian radio hits back at Israel
13 Dec 01 | Middle East
US and EU to maintain Arafat link
12 Dec 01 | Middle East
Arafat says Sharon has him marked
14 Dec 01 | Middle East
Analysis: Sharon's strategy
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