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Monday, 11 March, 2002, 13:34 GMT
Mass detentions in West Bank
Israeli soldiers round up Palestinians in the Deheishe refugee camp
The men were reportedly told to strip to the waist
The Israeli army has rounded up hundreds of Palestinians for questioning in the West Bank.

Reports said at least 500 men aged between 15 and 45 were forced to stand, stripped to the waist, in a yard on the outskirts of the Deheishe refugee camp. Others were said to have been handcuffed and blindfolded.

An Israeli soldier trains his rifle on the valley near Deheishe refugee camp
Israel is determined to keep up pressure on the Palestinians
Israeli forces have also occupied the West Bank town of Qalqilya in the latest of their incursions into Palestinian areas.

The latest military operations came as the authorities announced the ending of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's confinement in the West Bank town of Ramallah.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said on Sunday that he was lifting the blockade on Mr Arafat because he had fulfilled the condition that he arrest the suspected assassinators of Israeli cabinet minister Rehavam Zeevi, who was killed last year.

Military action

Despite this decision, Mr Sharon has said military action against Palestinian targets will continue.

About 50 tanks and armoured vehicles moved into Qalqilya from every direction overnight, and troops have been conducting house-to-house searches for suspected militants.

Five Palestinians, including a 17-year-old boy, were killed by Israeli fire on Monday.

The latest military operations came as Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon came under pressure from a right-wing faction in his coalition government over concessions he has made to the Palestinian leadership.

Coalition threat

The Israel Beitenou-National Unity bloc said it intended to leave the coalition following Mr Sharon's decision to lift restrictions on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who has blockaded in Ramallah since December.

They are also angry over his announcement that he has dropped Israel's demand for seven days without violence before entering into formal peace talks.

However it is not clear where the Palestinian leaders will go. His main headquarters in the Gaza Strip were reduced to rubble by Israeli helicopters and gunboats on Sunday.

BBC correspondent Nick Childs says Mr Sharon's move does look like a dramatic shift towards the centre, which may partly be in response to US pressure, but also to Israeli public opinion, which is increasingly hardening against him.

Bloodshed

Two Palestinians - a policeman and a civilian - were killed in the fighting in Qalqilya.

A woman weeps while attending one of the funerals on Sunday for the victims of a Jerusalem cafe bombing
The spiralling violence is turning Israeli public opinion against Sharon

Elsewhere, a 17-year-old boy trying to dodge a road barrier near the town of Yatta, to the south of the West Bank, was killed by Israeli soldiers.

In Gaza, a Palestinian civilian was killed as Israeli troops exchanged fire with Palestinian security forces in the Bureij refugee camp, and Israeli troops shot dead another Palestinian man near the border fence with Israel.

Diplomacy

Mr Sharon made his concessions to Mr Arafat in advance of a visit by the US mediator, Anthony Zinni, who is hoping to reverse the rapid escalation in fighting.

The American Secretary of State Colin Powell said General Zinni, who is due to arrive on Thursday, would not be deterred by violence.

"He is going to stay in the region and fight his way through this," Mr Powell told American television.

General Zinni's first two visits to this region failed to achieve anything.

But BBC Jerusalem correspondent James Reynolds said the US impetus for a deal could be greater this time, particularly because the US Vice President, Dick Cheney, has also begun a tour of the Middle East.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Stephen Cviic
"Israelis are fed up with the violence"
The BBC's Jeremy Cooke
"Ariel Sharon says he is ready to work towards a ceasefire"
See also:

10 Mar 02 | Americas
Cheney seeks Mid-East support
09 Mar 02 | Middle East
Arabs say peace plan in danger
08 Mar 02 | Middle East
In pictures: Mid-East fire and fury
05 Mar 02 | Middle East
Head to head: Mid-East violence surges
03 Mar 02 | Middle East
Israel on the defensive
03 Jan 02 | Middle East
Tough times for US Mid-East envoy
10 Mar 02 | Middle East
In pictures: Arafat HQ destroyed
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