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Tuesday, 22 January, 2002, 08:32 GMT
Israeli troops kill four in Nablus
Israeli tanks in Tulkarm
Israeli tanks are parked on the outskirts of Tulkarm
Israeli troops have shot dead four suspected Hamas militants after tanks briefly entered the West Bank town of Nablus early on Tuesday.

The men were killed in exchanges of fire while soldiers attempted to round up suspects in the al-Majeen district, about half a kilometre from the centre, the army said.

Tulkarm is an example of what can be done

Meir Sheetrit,
Israeli justice minister
The shootings came as troops pulled out of the nearby town of Tulkarm, which they had taken over a day earlier in the biggest operation of its kind since the Palestinian uprising began 16 months ago.

Israeli sources say tanks will stay on the outskirts of Tulkarm and continue to seal off the town, after what they called a successful operation against Palestinian militants.

Eleven suspects remain in detention. More were arrested but later released. Nine people were arrested in the Nablus raid.

Israel says the incursions are in response to an attack last Friday in the coastal town of Hadera - the first on civilians inside Israel in a month.

A Palestinian gunman, said to be from Tulkarm, burst into a banqueting hall in the town with an assault rifle, killing six Israelis and injuring 30.

Israeli anger

"What do the Palestinians expect us to do?" asked Israeli Justice Minister Meir Sheetrit. "Continue to let them murder our citizens daily and we won't do anything?

APCs in Tulkarm
The Tulkarm raid was the biggest of its kind
"We have no intention to remain in [Tulkarem]. But we have all the intentions to stop terror attacks in Israel."

The militant al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade - a Palestinian armed group associated with Mr Arafat's Fatah organisation - said it carried out Friday's attack in revenge for the killing of its Tulkarm leader, Raed Karmi, a week ago.

Over the past 16 months, Israeli troops have repeatedly seized neighbourhoods in Palestinian towns for limited periods.

But Monday was the first time they had taken control of an entire town.

UN condemnation

Troops took over eight buildings, including the mayor's villa and a police operations room, sandbagging rooftops and hoisting Israeli flags.

[Annan] is very concerned by the major Israeli incursion today into the Palestinian city of Tulkarm, in contravention of signed bilateral agreements

UN spokeswoman
Three Palestinians were killed and 23 wounded in clashes in Tulkarm, and in Ramallah further south.

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan condemned the deployment, and urged both sides to reach a ceasefire.

His Middle East envoy called the Israeli raid a "dangerous escalation" which would lead to more deaths.

The incursion came three days after Israeli tanks moved into positions outside Yasser Arafat's offices in Ramallah. The Palestinian leader has been effectively blockaded inside the town for weeks.

He said Palestinians would resist the Israeli incursion, and accused Israel of "crossing all red lines" by taking over Tulkarm.

The BBC's Barbara Plett
"The UN has expressed concern"
The BBC's James Reynolds
"The tanks that were in Tulkarm have now pulled out"
See also:

20 Jan 02 | Middle East
Thousands demand Arafat's release
20 Jan 02 | Middle East
The Palestinians under closure
18 Jan 02 | Middle East
'Another dark day in Israel'
14 Jan 02 | Middle East
Leading Palestinian killed in blast
10 Jan 02 | Middle East
Palestinian militants abandon truce
03 Jan 02 | Middle East
Tough times for US Mideast envoy
19 Jan 02 | Middle East
Stripping Gaza of statehood dream
21 Jan 02 | Middle East
Mid-East religions condemn bloodshed
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