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Sunday, 7 April, 2002, 17:28 GMT 18:28 UK
Palestinian death toll mounts
A convoy of Israeli army tanks and armoured personnel carriers drive in the West Bank town of Bethlehem
The Israeli offensive has sparked international concern
The Israeli army says it has killed at least 200 Palestinians in its sweeping 10-day offensive in the West Bank.

Reports have spoken of dozens of dead bodies lying in the streets of Jenin refugee camp where the army met much stiffer resistance than expected from Palestinian fighters. Seven of its own soldiers have died there.
Enlarge image Click here for map of Israeli operation

Israel's strongest backer, the United States, has called for an end to the incursions, which have turned about a dozen Palestinian towns and villages into war zones.

But Prime Minister Ariel Sharon resisted US pressure, saying only that the offensive - launched to combat the threat of Palestinian suicide bomb attacks - would be speeded up, not ended.

President Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, said on US television on Sunday that the pullout should begin "now, without delay, not tomorrow".

But she gave the Israelis room for manoeuvre over the manner of any withdrawal, saying it should not be "helter-skelter and chaotic".

The world is watching and Israel needs to end this pitiless assault on civilian refugee camps

UN official Peter Hansen
Meanwhile the head of the United Nations agency responsible for Palestinian refugees has called on the Israeli army to end its "pitiless assault" on civilian refugee camps in Nablus and Jenin.

"We are getting reports of pure horror," said Unrwa chief Peter Hansen." That helicopters are strafing civilian residential areas; that systematic shelling by tanks has created hundreds of wounded; that bulldozers are razing refugee homes and that food and medicine will soon run out."

Confused picture

Army chief of staff Shaul Mofaz said more than 200 Palestinians have been killed and 1,500 injured since the offensive was launched on 29 March.

An Israeli field commander said more than 30 Palestinian guerrillas were killed in two days of close combat in Nablus.

President Bush speaks to Ariel Sharon from his ranch in Texas
Bush was unusually blunt in his words to Israel
Palestinian officials say there has been a "massacre" in Jenin, with more than 30 people including civilians, women and children among the dead.

The figures cannot be confirmed because neither medics nor the media have been allowed access. The Palestinian Red Crescent says there are 12 confirmed deaths in Jenin, but that does not include anyone killed in the last two days when fighting was heaviest.

Jenin and Nablus have been under heavy and continuous shelling for several days. Some areas are surrounded by Israeli troops as Palestinian guerrillas defend dense mazes of streets and alleyways.

Where is Powell? Sharon is using the time between now and his arrival to destroy everything

Palestinian official Saeb Erekat
Israeli troops and tanks surrounded several small villages near Ramallah on Sunday, including two villages where the forces entered and conducted house to house searches.

In the Gaza Strip, which has not been part of the current offensive, thousands of people gathered for the funeral of five people in Rafah - including two young girls and an elderly man killed by Israeli tank fire on Saturday.

Diplomatic moves

US President George W Bush followed up his demand for Israeli withdrawal with a 20-minute phone call to Mr Sharon, and US officials said he demanded an immediate pullout, not just promises of future action.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell is due to arrive in the region on Monday, but will not reach Israel until later.

The foreign minister of Spain - which currently holds the European Union presidency - said the EU would discuss imposing sanctions on Israel if it continued its incursions on Palestinian territory.

"Some countries are in favour of introducing sanctions very, very soon, others are more reluctant," Josep Pique said.

Ambulances 'obstructed'

Statements from Mr Sharon's office said the Israeli offensive was being prolonged by the need to prevent harm to civilians.

An Israeli army spokesman told Israeli radio the operation in Jenin could end on Sunday.

The curfew was briefly lifted in Bethlehem for residents to buy supplies
A Palestinian doctor told the BBC that Israel was firing heavy weaponry from the hills around the town and that ambulances had been unable to reach the dead and wounded.

UN relief workers said a convoy of food aid had reached Nablus but they could not distribute it because of the security situation.

Several thousand Israeli peace campaigners gathered in Tel Aviv on Saturday night under the slogan "End occupation, start negotiation".

But opinion polls show that Israelis, rocked by suicide bombings that have deepened fears that no place in Israel is safe, overwhelmingly support the operation.

In another development to heighten the sense of crisis, Israeli security sources said at least two people were wounded in an cross-border attack by Lebanese guerrillas on Sunday evening.

Israeli civilians living near the border were ordered into bomb shelters amid fears that the Palestinian militant groups and the Shia Muslim Hezbollah were trying to make Israel to fight on two fronts.

The BBC's Orla Guerin
"Isreal says Nablus is a capital of terrorism"
Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat
"These are war crimes being committed against the Palestinian state"
Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
"Any normal country would do what we are doing"
See also:

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06 Apr 02 | Americas
Bush and Blair's united stance
05 Apr 02 | Middle East
UN to probe Mid-East 'rights abuses'
05 Apr 02 | Middle East
Nobel's regrets on Peres award
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