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Friday, 5 April, 2002, 08:52 GMT 09:52 UK
Israel deepens West Bank presence
Israeli troops in Hebron
Israeli troops control most West Bank towns
The Israeli military operation in the West Bank has gone into its eighth day, with tanks reported to have pushed deeper into the town of Hebron.

Other Israeli forces have been battling Palestinian gunmen in the West Bank city of Nablus and the Jenin refugee camp.

Israeli forces fired on a suspected militant's house in Hebron
And Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is still confined to his compound in Ramallah.

In Bethlehem, troops are besieging a church where more than 200 Palestinians have sought refuge.

The Israelis say most of those taking refuge in the Church of the Nativity are armed fighters, but Palestinian officials say they are largely ordinary Palestinians who fled there from the fighting.

Israeli forces are now occupying all major towns in the West Bank except Jericho and have detained hundreds of suspects.

Enlarge image Click here for map of Israeli operation

Palestinian fighters inside the Bethlehem church told the BBC on Thursday that Israeli forces had blown open the back door.

One of the priests trapped inside, church warden Father Ibrahim Faltas, said the a gun battle had broken out.

The Israeli army denied that it had stormed the church, but said its soldiers had fired shots while chasing militants who had escaped.

On Friday morning, Troops broadcast a call in Arabic for everyone to "leave the holy place and be treated with respect and dignity."

Dozens of Israeli tanks and armoured vehicles occupied Nablus, the West Bank's biggest city, on Wednesday night.

Four refugee camps in the city are surrounded and there have been fierce exchanges of fire.


  • Compound covers 12,000 square metres
  • Originally erected in the 4th century, but destroyed
  • Current church built in 6th century
  • Star marks Jesus Christ's birthplace

    See also:   Church with a turbulent history

  • Reports on Friday said at least seven people had died in pre-dawn clashes in Nablus.

    Israeli soldiers were unable to enter the old city or the nearby Balata and Askar refugee camps because of heavy Palestinian resistance, witnesses said.

    The Palestinian leadership has asked the international community to intervene "urgently", while vowing that its fighters will continue to resist.

    The Israeli offensive began last Friday in response to a suicide bomb attack in Netanya that killed 26 Israelis at the start of the Jewish Passover holiday.

    Bethlehem and Ramallah have both been declared closed military areas.

    Mr Arafat has been confined to a small area of his Ramallah compound since Israeli troops smashed through the perimeter and occupied most of the buildings inside.

    See also:

    04 Apr 02 | Middle East
    Bush intervenes in Mid-East crisis
    04 Apr 02 | Middle East
    Extracts from Bush's speech
    04 Apr 02 | Middle East
    US policy change carries risks
    04 Apr 02 | Middle East
    EU abandons peace mission
    04 Apr 02 | UK Politics
    Blair 'appalled' by Mid East violence
    04 Apr 02 | Middle East
    No let-up in Bethlehem siege
    04 Apr 02 | Europe
    Turkey accuses Israel of genocide
    04 Apr 02 | Middle East
    Bethlehem priest shelters Palestinians
    04 Apr 02 | Middle East
    Palestinian nerve centre hit
    02 Apr 02 | Middle East
    Analysis: Arafat under attack
    02 Apr 02 | Middle East
    Israel considers exiling Arafat
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