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Thursday, 7 March, 2002, 23:29 GMT
Israeli raids reach new peak
Palestinian policemen put out fire after attack on Jabalya
Violence raged from morning to night on Thursday
Israeli armed forces have carried out their biggest assault on the West Bank and Gaza Strip since the Palestinian uprising began 17 months ago.

At least 11 Palestinians were killed in the onslaught - nine as the Israeli military stormed into Tulkarm in the northern West Bank in the search for suspected militants.

General Anthony Zinni in military uniform
Zinni: last in the region in January
Palestinian militants retaliated with a raid late on Thursday on a Jewish settlement in Gaza in which four Israelis and the Palestinian attacker died.

Against this backdrop of rising violence, the US has announced it is sending its peace envoy, Anthony Zinni, back to the region. Mr Zinni will arrive next week to build on existing peace plans, President George W Bush said in Washington.

After the a number of fruitless US initiatives in the last 18 months, Mr Bush said now he believed there was a possibility that the US could have an impact, although he had received no assurances from either side.

There are no assurances. That's not going to prevent our government from trying

George W Bush
President Bush said the recent peace initiative by Saudi Arabia had created an opening for discussion, and he insisted: "There is a road map to peace".

The BBC's Jon Leyne in Washington says the announcement signals growing US unease over the tough stance of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government.

Thursday dawned with up to 80 Israeli tanks rolling into the town of Tulkarm and onto the outskirts of the Tulkarm and Nour Shams refugee camps.

Later in the day, Israeli helicopters fired rockets into the Jabalya refugee camp in the north of the Gaza Strip, reportedly injuring at least three people.

In other incidents in the territories, a leader of the Islamic Jihad group and at least one other Palestinian militant were killed in clashes with Israeli troops.

US mission

The US envoy will build on an existing peace plan devised by CIA chief George Tenet, said Mr Bush.

Palestinian carries girl injured by shrapnel in Israeli air attack
The US accuses both sides of fanning war
The Intifada
  • Began September 2000
  • Palestinian frustration at peace process boil over when Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount, or Haram al-Sharif
  • About 1,000 Palestinians and 300 Israelis killed in 17 months of violence

  • Mr Zinni left the region in January when his peace efforts were overshadowed by Israel's seizure of a shipload of arms allegedly on their way to the Palestinians.

    The decision to send him back to the area came just hours after White House press secretary Ari Fleischer insisted Mr Bush wanted to see as reduction of violence "for an opening so that General Zinni can accomplish something good".

    Vice President Dick Cheney, who also spoke at the news conference at the White House, said he would be pursuing the peace process during a visit to the region next week.

    Israel, meanwhile, has expressed concern at tough comments this week by US Secretary of State Colin Powell, who criticised Mr Sharon's policies of "killing Palestinians" until they were forced back to the negotiating table.

    He later came back with a strong statement of support for Israel, saying the US remained "Israel's big supporter".

    Yasser Arafat sent a message of defiance to Israel on Thursday.

    "If they believe there is anyone in this land who fears their tanks or planes... they are wrong," he said.

    The Israeli Government for its part defended its actions, saying it was "fighting back against terror organisations in the framework of its right of self-defence".

    Thursday saw a series of attacks or attempted bomb attacks on Israelis:

    • As night fell, reports came in that a Palestinian gunman had slipped into the Jewish settlement of Atzmona in the southern Gaza Strip and opened fire, killing four people and wounding about 15 others
    • Ten Israelis were injured, one seriously, when a Palestinian attacker blew himself up in a hotel lobby outside the West Bank settlement of Ariel
    • In Jerusalem's popular German Colony area, police arrested a man with a bomb after customers and staff in a coffee house he was entering noticed wires protruding from his bag and overpowered him
    • A bomb exploded outside a shopping centre in Pardes Hanna, northern Israel, but emergency services had already cleared the area
    The BBC's Jeremy Cooke
    "Washington recognises it needs to act"
    US President George Bush
    "The US has a vision for the Middle East in which all people can live as neighbours"
    Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Natan Sharansky
    "We will destroy the centres of terror"
    Peter Hanson, UN Palestinian Agency
    "A UN official was shot through the heart"
    See also:

    07 Mar 02 | Middle East
    Israeli operations timeline
    05 Mar 02 | Middle East
    Head to head: Mid-East violence surges
    04 Mar 02 | Media reports
    Israeli cabinet clash over Arafat
    03 Mar 02 | Middle East
    Israel on the defensive
    03 Jan 02 | Middle East
    Tough times for US Mideast envoy
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