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Saturday, 6 April, 2002, 19:53 GMT 20:53 UK
Battle rages in Palestinian camp
Israeli tanks in Nablus
Tanks have forces their way into the heart of Nablus
Fighting between Palestinians and Israeli troops is raging through densely populated refugee camps in the West Bank, with reports of heavy loss of life in the northern town of Jenin.

Those that don't surrender, we will kill them

Israeli commander in Jenin
Residents at the Jenin refugee camp said they feared a "massacre" was taking place, and one Palestinian fighter said he had counted 30 dead bodies.

Israeli air force commander Dan Halutz told a news conference that seven soldiers had been killed over the past two days in Jenin.

Fierce clashes were also reported in Nablus, the biggest Palestinian city in the West Bank, where Israel forces attacked targets in its historic market area and surrounded the Balata refugee camp.

Palestinians in Nablus
The Palestinians have appealed for international intervention
Israeli shots were fired at Yasser Arafat's compound in Ramallah late on Saturday afternoon.

Mr Arafat was unhurt but four of his bodyguards have been injured, one seriously, said security sources inside the Palestinian leader's offices.

Israel claimed it shot back in retaliation after its troops came under Palestinian fire.

Israeli forces pushed ahead with its military offensive despite an American warning to stop incursions into Palestinian towns "without delay" ahead of US Secretary of State Colin Powell's tour of the region.

Mr Powell said he had no plans to see Palestinian Authority president Yasser Arafat during his visit, but other Palestinian leaders have said they will boycott Mr Powell if there is no Arafat meeting.

Surrender call

An Israeli commander in the Jenin area said Palestinian fighters at the Jenin camp had "their backs against the wall" and there had been "many casualties".

"We trapped them in there, attacked them with the intention that they should surrender. Those that don't surrender, we will kill them", said Tat Aluf Eyal Shlein.

Enlarge image Click here for map of Israeli operation
Palestinians said there had been intense bombardment through the night by Israeli tanks and helicopters.

"I myself counted 30 dead bodies. There are a tremendous number of injured people. The international community will be shocked at the number of injured people," a Palestinian fighter named Abu Irmail told Reuters news agency.

Army units moved into the autonomous towns of Yatta, south of Hebron, and Qabatiya, north of Nablus on Saturday.

Two Palestinians were killed and seven wounded in Yatta as tanks backed by helicopters fought their way into the centre of town, Palestinian security sources said.

A shopkeeper in Nablus told the BBC that the deafening sound of explosions was like an earthquake. He said ambulances were unable to move on the streets because of Israeli gunfire. And a doctor said he was hearing explosions every 10 to 12 minutes.

Tanks are reported to have fired on the edges of the Balata refugee camp on the outskirts of Nablus, causing some civilian casualties.

The militant group Hamas is vowing revenge for the killing of six of its fighters on Friday, including Qais Idwan, the man Israel blames for the "Passover massacre" last week which killed 26 people and triggered the current offensive.

Arafat meeting

Israeli officials insist the Americans are not seeking an immediate withdrawal of Israeli forces, which would only happen "after having cleaned up the nest of terrorists" in the words of one spokesman.

It will be a new kind of punishment... that will shake [Israel] and destroy its pillars

Hamas statement
On Friday, US envoy Anthony Zinni was allowed to meet Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in his besieged Ramallah headquarters to pave the way for Mr Powell's visit.

However, on Saturday, US diplomatic sources quoted by AFP said Israel had blocked Mr Zinni from a follow-up visit, citing security reasons.

US ceasefire plans have been stalled because a meeting of a three-man Palestinian security committee has yet to take place - its members are currently stranded in Gaza, Ramallah and Jericho by the Israeli blockade.

Bethlehem stand-off

Vatican diplomats are reported to have put forward a proposal to Israelis and Palestinians to end a stand-off at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem which is in its fifth day.

Lutheran clergyman in Bethlehem
Clerics have been caught up in fighting in Bethlehem
One unnamed church source said the proposal calls for the Palestinians to leave their weapons inside the church complex and for the Israeli army to pull back from the immediate vicinity for a few hours to let them out.

Israel says it has taken 900 Palestinian prisoners since its campaign began on 29 March.

Israeli troops still control nearly all of the West Bank and have declared the occupied towns to be closed military zones out of bounds to journalists.

The BBC's Orla Guerin
"The tanks are going forward tonight"
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat
"It is not for Bush or Blair to pick and choose who to meet"
See also:

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