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Thursday, 4 April, 2002, 09:27 GMT 10:27 UK
Israel reoccupies most of West Bank
Israeli armour in Nablus
Nablus was the last West Bank city to be reoccupied
The Israeli army has reoccupied all but two of the major West Bank towns - Hebron and Jericho - in seven days of a campaign it says is aimed at stopping terror attacks on Israeli citizens.

Witnesses said more than 100 tanks and armoured vehicles rolled into Nablus, the West Bank's biggest city, and there have been fierce exchanges of fire.

The actions of Israel's government and army will only separate us by rivers of blood instead of building bridges between us

Palestinian statement

Four refugee camps in Nablus have also been surrounded.

The European Union has sent its policy chief, Javier Solana, and Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Pique, the current EU president, to Jerusalem to try and broker an end to the violence.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has said that for now, the envoys' request to meet with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is rejected.

Mr Sharon has also refused to allow the US peace envoy Anthony Zinni meet with Mr Arafat, despite pleas by his Defense Minister, Binyamin Ben Eliezer and his Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres.

In some of the latest violence to be reported, the Israeli military said a reserve officer had been shot dead by Palestinians at a refugee camp in the northern town of Jenin.

Israeli soldiers are still surrounding more than 100 Palestinian police and militiamen in Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, where food is said to be running out.

A priest inside the church, Father Ibrahim Faltas, has appealed for international help, saying he fears there may be a massacre.

The BBC's Caroline Hawley, in Jerusalem, says that mounting international criticism is falling on deaf Israeli ears and officials seem determined to press on with what they call a "war on terror".

Fierce resistance

As Israeli tanks that had encircled Nablus all day began to move in, witnesses reported hearing gunfire and explosions.

Leaving one's home means that you could be shelled or shot by the army
Susan, Jerusalem

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The Palestinian intelligence chief in Nablus Talal Diwikat said heavy fighting is hindering the Israelis' progress to the city centre and their helicopter gunships are firing on Nablus.

One woman was killed by a blast that shook the city, Palestinian sources said.

Palestinians and police were moving through the streets and some main roads had been blocked with makeshift barricades.

As tanks moved in, the Palestinian Authority issued a statement urging people to "close ranks in a long-term struggle against this occupation and to mobilise all its resources... to confront this unjust and criminal war".

It said that with its actions over the past week the Israeli government "will only separate by rivers of blood instead of building bridges of peace".

Israeli tanks have been ringing Yasser Arafat's compound in Ramallah since Friday, after a suicide bomber killed 26 Israelis at the start of the Jewish passover holiday.

The UN Security Council and the EU have held separate meetings to discuss the crisis.

Ariel Sharon
Sharon: The operation is aimed at "eliminating terrorist infrastructure"
EU foreign ministers agreed to send an urgent high-level diplomatic mission to Israel and the Palestinian territories to help calm the growing conflict.

Egypt has said it is suspending contacts with Israel apart from diplomatic channels which could help the Palestinians.

But Israeli official dismissed the move as a symbolic gesture.

Church siege

Bethlehem and Ramallah have both been declared closed military areas.

In Bethlehem, Palestinian gunmen are among more than 100 people believed to be taking refuge inside the famous Church of the Nativity - along with priests, nuns and civilians.

They gunmen fled there after hours of heavy gun battles with Israeli forces near the church.

Food is said to be running low.

Defence Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said Israel had "no intention to break into any church", but army officials said those inside would not be allowed to go free.

The BBC's James Reynolds, who is in Bethlehem, said that the streets were deserted and strewn with rubble, glass and broken water pipes.

Our correspondent says that most people are still staying at home, too afraid to move.

Three Palestinian gunmen and at least four non-combatants are reported to have been killed in Bethlehem.

Wednesday - the sixth day of Israel's Operation Defensive Shield - began with tanks sweeping into Jenin and Salfit.

Israel had already reoccupied Bethlehem, Ramallah, Tulkarm and Qalqilya.

US President George W Bush
"I've got a vision for the Middle East"
Israeli government spokesman Ra'anan Gissin
"This war is not about occupation, it's about terrorism"
The BBC's Andrew Burroughs
"Christians have added to the tension"
See also:

03 Apr 02 | Middle East
EU seeks Mid-East resolution
03 Apr 02 | Middle East
Egypt scales down Israel contacts
03 Apr 02 | Middle East
Israel and Hezbollah exchange fire
03 Apr 02 | Middle East
US sends mixed signals on Mid-East
02 Apr 02 | Middle East
Analysis: Arafat under attack
02 Apr 02 | Middle East
Israel considers exiling Arafat
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