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Thursday, 28 February, 2002, 12:18 GMT
Gun battles rage in West Bank
Inured Palestinian is brought to hospital in Nablus
Israel says refugee camps harbour "terrorists"
Eight Palestinians and an Israeli soldier are reported to have been killed and more than 90 wounded in gun battles in the West Bank.


If the Israelis do not pull out of Balata refugee camp, we are going to attack Gilo settlement with all kinds of weapons

Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade
The clashes erupted when Israeli troops, backed by tanks and helicopter gunships, raided two refugee camps - Balata and Jenin - which the army described as "safe havens" of "terror organisations".

The latest violence came after a female suicide bomber blew herself up on Wednesday night at an Israeli army checkpoint in the West Bank.

It overshadowed a Saudi initiative aimed at bringing an end to 17 months of violence in the region.

Camps

The Israeli military said Thursday's operation was intended to show that "there is no refuge for terror".

The operation started with dozens of tanks surrounding the camp with helicopter gunships flying overhead.

At Balata, Palestinian gunmen began firing at the Israeli forces, after which the Israelis fired heavy machine guns from the tanks and helicopters.

Palestinian militiamen were also reported to be setting off dozens of homemade bombs during the fighting.

Israeli troops have also occupied a UN-run school on the edge of Balata - a strategic position enabling the soldiers to overlook the camp.

Palestinian militants are reported to have surrounded the school, trapping the soldiers there, but an Israeli army spokesman firmly denied this in a interview with BBC News Online.

The BBC's Barbara Plett says tanks cannot go into these refugee camps because of the narrow alleys and the presence of heavily-armed Palestinians.

Suicide bomber

Late on Wednesday night, a Palestinian woman blew herself up at an Israeli checkpoint between the West Bank and Israel, wounding two Palestinians accompanying her and at least three Israeli policemen.

Funeral of an Israeli who was shot dead by his Palestinian employee
Israeli mourners carry the body of a factory manager killed by a Palestinian
The bomber, identified as Dareen Abu Aisheh, a 21-year-old English literature student at An-Najah University in Nablus, left behind a videotaped farewell message.

The al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, an armed group associated with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction, said it had sent her on the suicide mission.

The group threatened to attack Israeli settlers if the army did not withdraw their troops from the Balata camp.

"We declare that in a couple of hours, if the Israelis do not pull out of Balata refugee camp, we are going to attack Gilo settlement with all kinds of weapons, even with missiles," a spokesman who declined to be named told reporters, according to Reuters news agency.

Saudi peace plan

Continuing his Middle East tour, European Union foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, visited Egypt to build on a peace plan proposed by Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah.


Crown Prince Abdullah's peace proposal:
  • Israel should withdraw to pre-1967 borders and sign a peace deal with the Palestinians
  • In return, Arab states offer Israel full diplomatic relations, including security guarantees and trade relations
  • Initiative cautiously welcomed by Israel and the US

    See also:
      More detail on plan
      History in maps

  • Mr Solana discussed the plan with the prince in the Saudi city of Jeddah on Wednesday.

    The plan would offer Arab recognition of Israel in exchange for a full Israeli withdrawal from occupied Arab land.

    Crown Prince Abdullah says he will present his proposals at next month's Arab summit.

    Mr Solana told reporters in Cairo: "This is an initiative that we from our side have supported. It's for the Arab countries now to work on it, accept it in the summit. I hope that it will be unanimously accepted."

    Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres has welcomed the initiative and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has expressed interest.

     WATCH/LISTEN
     ON THIS STORY
    The BBC's James Reynolds in Jerusalem
    "The strikes are overshadowing diplomacy"
    See also:

    25 Feb 02 | Middle East
    Israeli president seeks Saudi talks
    27 Feb 02 | Media reports
    Saudi move stirs regional hopes
    Internet links:


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