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Thursday, 28 February, 2002, 16:10 GMT
Israel targets refugee camps
Inured Palestinian is brought to hospital in Nablus
Israel says refugee camps harbour "terrorists"
The Israeli army has launched a massive operation against suspected Palestinian militants inside two refugee camps in the West Bank - the first time this has happened since the intifada began 17 months ago.

Ten people have been killed - nine Palestinians and an Israeli soldier - with more than 80 Palestinians injured in the raids at the Jenin and Balata camps.


I call on all national forces to unite against this Israeli escalation and come forward to defend their brothers in Balata and Jenin

Palestinian official Marwan Barghouti
The soldiers have begun house-to-house searches, reportedly breaking through walls of adjoining properties to avoid exposure to Palestinian militants who are said to be well-armed.

The militants have threatened to attack Israelis inside the occupied territories if the army does not pull out shortly.

The new offensive - after a suicide bombing on Wednesday night at an Israeli army checkpoint in the West Bank - has overshadowed a Saudi peace initiative aimed at ending the violence.

The incursions began overnight. Israeli tanks moved into the refugee camps which the army described as "safe havens" of "terror organisations".

Helicopters flew overhead, then ground troops entered refugee camps in force.

  • An Israeli soldier and two Palestinians - a gunman and a bystander - were killed in clashes at the Balata refugee camp near Nablus.

  • More than 80 Palestinians were wounded, according to Palestinian medical sources. Two Israeli soldiers were also wounded in the fighting.

  • Seven Palestinian policemen were killed, and eight people were wounded, including several civilians, in an Israeli attack north of the Palestinian-controlled town of Jenin

As soldiers searched homes at Balata, the army said it would allow non-combatants to leave the camp if they wanted.

Israeli troops have also occupied a United Nations-run school on the edge of Balata - but the army has firmly denied reporrts that its soldiers are trapped there, surrounded by militants.

Marwan Barghouti, the head of the Fatah movement aligned to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, has described the Israeli offensive as a "massacre".

Israeli army tank at the Balata refugee camp
Tanks went into the camps overnight
"We warn Israel that if it does not withdraw its forces in the next few hours, the Palestinian side will retaliate against Israelis everywhere in the occupied territories," Mr Barghouti said.

"I call on all national forces to unite against this Israeli escalation and come forward to defend their brothers in Balata and Jenin," he said.

A similar warning has been issued by the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade - the militant group linked to Fatah which on Wednesday said it was behind a female suicide attack that wounded two Palestinians accompanying the bomber and at least three Israeli policemen.

Saudi peace plan

The new escalation came as Israeli and Palestinian officials met for security talks to try to ease the situation.

It also coincided with an international effort to end the violence, led by the European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana and based 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

  • 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 discussed its details with the prince on Wednesday.

    He 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 Caroline Hawley
    "The retaliation had begun"
    See also:

    27 Feb 02 | Media reports
    Saudi move stirs regional hopes
    26 Feb 02 | Middle East
    Pregnant women under fire
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