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Wednesday, 10 April, 2002, 04:16 GMT 05:16 UK
Sharon vows to fight on
An Israeli soldier, injured during clashes in Jenin, is evacuated to a hospital in Haifa
The soldiers were trapped by co-ordinated attacks
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is defying US calls for troop withdrawals and has promised to continue battling Palestinians after one of the bloodiest days in the recent Middle East conflict.

Thirteen Israeli reservists were killed and seven wounded in co-ordinated ambushes at a refugee camp in the West Bank town of Jenin on Tuesday.

Mark Robinson cries during the funeral of his son Matnya, killed in Jenin
Mark Robinson's son Matnya was killed in Jenin
Six or seven soldiers died when a booby-trap device exploded and a suicide bomber blew himself up. At the same time, gunmen ambushed a second group in the area, the Israeli Army said.

The attack was the worst loss of life for the Israeli army since the Palestinian uprising began 18 months ago.

In a nationally televised address after the attacks, Mr Sharon vowed to continue the offensive which has seen troops occupy many West Bank towns and besiege Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat inside his headquarters.

'Battle for survival'

"It was a tough campaign, a campaign that we are continuing ... until we fulfil the decision of the Cabinet that calls for the destruction of the infrastructure of the terror groups," Mr Sharon said.

"This is a battle for survival of the Jewish people, for survival of the state of Israel."

Israel's [responsibility] is withdrawal and to do so now

President Bush's spokesman Ari Fleischer

At least 124 Palestinians and 24 Israeli soldiers have been killed in the course of Operation Defensive Shield, according to Palestinian medics and the Israeli army.

Nearly 2,000 Palestinians have been detained. Mr Sharon said 500 had Israeli blood on their hands.

The offensive was launched on 29 March in response to a suicide bombing that killed 27 people celebrating Passover in a Jerusalem restaurant.

The United Nations and the US have demanded Israel withdraw from Palestinian-governed areas.

Enlarge image Click here for map of Israeli operation

US Secretary of State Colin Powell has visited Arab leaders and will gauge the opinion of the European Union on Wednesday before taking his peace mission to Israel.

The Jenin ambush came hours after Israeli forces completed their withdrawal from the towns of Qalqilya and Tulkarm, although Israeli tanks remained in a cordon around the towns.

Mr Powell had said he was encouraged by the partial withdrawal but added it had to be the start of all Israeli troops leaving the West Bank towns.

Arafat meeting

Speaking in Egypt after meetings with President Hosni Mubarak and Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher, Mr Powell said he intended to meet Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat during his visit to Israel on Thursday.

He also said that Washington was prepared to send US observers to monitor a ceasefire between the Palestinians and Israelis.

We will continue until we make this camp submit

Israeli military chief, Major-General Yitzhak Eitan

Israel radio quoted Mr Sharon as saying the decision to meet Mr Arafat was a "tragic mistake".

In Washington, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said President Bush wanted more action from both sides.

"Israel's [responsibility] is withdrawal and to do so now," he said.

"The Arab nations' responsibilities are to exercise statesmanship and create an environment for peace by condemning terrorism, by stopping the funding of terrorists."

 Palestinian Hana Saidachmad was injured during fighting in Dura
Hana Saidachmad, 10, was injured in fighting near Dura
At the United Nations, Arab countries introduced another draft resolution condemning the Israelis for failing to pull their troops out of Palestinian areas and calling for an international presence on the ground.

After the ambush in Jenin, the head of Israel's central command, Major-General Yitzhak Eitan, said there was an "infrastructure of suicide bombers" in the camp.

"We will continue to fight as long as necessary despite the loss. We will continue until we make this camp submit," he said.

Heavy fighting was reported elsewhere in the West Bank on Tuesday, with exchanges of fire in a cemetery outside the village of Dura, near Hebron.

Israeli forces took control of the Old City in Nablus, while in Bethlehem Palestinian gunmen are holed up in the Church of the Nativity, built over the traditional birthplace of Jesus.

The BBC's John Simpson
"It is their worst loss of life since the Palestinian resistance began"
UK Ambassador to the UN, Jeremy Greenstock
"The Security Council is getting increasingly intolerant of the Israeli action."
Richard Cook, director of UNRWA
"People have gone several days without medical care"
See also:

09 Apr 02 | Middle East
Powell plans to meet Arafat
09 Apr 02 | Middle East
Aid held up outside Jenin
09 Apr 02 | Middle East
Analysis: Bush's Israeli dilemma
08 Apr 02 | Middle East
Israelis back Sharon
08 Apr 02 | Middle East
Vatican outrage over church siege
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