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Saturday, 2 March, 2002, 12:55 GMT
Israel pulls back from Jenin
Israeli soldiers in Balata refugee camp
Israel said the army will operate wherever necessary
Israel withdrew its troops from a Palestinian refugee camp in the West Bank town of Jenin on Saturday, two days after launching an assault aimed at rooting out suspected militants.

But soldiers are continuing house-to-house searches in a second camp, Balata, about 30 kilometres (20 miles) away.

The pullout followed international criticism of the Israeli raids and came hours after the Palestinian Authority said it was suspending contacts with Israel.

Nineteen Palestinians and two Israeli soldiers have died since Israel entered the densely populated shanty towns on Thursday, in the deepest incursion into refugee camps since the current uprising began 17 months ago.

A military spokesman said troops had "completed the first stage in their activity in the Jenin refugee camp", French news agency AFP reported.

Witnesses said Israel still controlled the entrances to the camp.

Weapons found

A statement from the army said it would continue to operate in every place it saw fit.

It said its troops had found a workshop manufacturing home-made rockets in Balata, near Nablus, as well as a house full of equipment used to make explosives.

Al-Aqsa fighter
Jenin is a stronghold of the militant al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade
The raids came after a Palestinian suicide bomber blew herself up at a checkpoint on the border between the West Bank and Israel on Wednesday.

Israel said several recent suicide bombers had come from Jenin and Balata.

Palestinian sources said about 250 gunmen had evaded Israeli troops and escaped to the town of Jenin, only to return to the camp after the Israelis withdrew.

A fighter from the al-Aqsa Brigades told AFP: "We have returned after the Israelis and their tanks left with failure and defeat."

Raids condemned

At least five Palestinians and an Israeli solder were killed on Friday as gunbattles raged from house to house and alley to alley in the crowded camps.

One of the victims was a 10-year-old girl, who Palestinian officials said had been hit by fire from an Israeli helicopter in Jenin.

It's a new massacre against the Palestinian people

Yasser Arafat

Palestinian President Yasser Arafat urged international action to halt what he called a "new massacre".

"I call upon the whole world to act quickly before a state of chaos engulfs the whole Middle East region," he said from the West Bank town of Ramallah, where he has been confined since December.

The United Nations Human Rights Commissioner, Mary Robinson, said the incursions violated international humanitarian law, while the European Union urged Israel to withdraw its troops immediately.

The United States has urged Israel to exercise restraint, but stopped short of calling for a withdrawal from the camps.

In the Gaza Strip on Saturday, a member of the Palestinian militant group Hamas was shot dead by Israeli troops near the town of Beit Hanoun.

A Hamas statement identified the man as Khalil Jmasi and said he was attempting to plant a bomb when he was killed, Reuters news agency reported.

The BBC's Caroline Hawley
"There is growing concern"
Israeli foreign ministry spokesman, Arye Mekel
"Arafat has the key to this whole situation"
Palestinian Fatah leader, Hussam Khader
"We have the right to our own independent state"
See also:

02 Mar 02 | Middle East
Israel presses on with camps assault
01 Mar 02 | Middle East
Israel cautioned over raid
28 Feb 02 | Middle East
Saudi plan spurs Mid-East diplomacy
27 Feb 02 | Media reports
Saudi move stirs regional hopes
26 Feb 02 | Middle East
Pregnant women under fire
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