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Wednesday, 13 November, 2002, 12:46 GMT
Israelis seize West Bank town
Israeli tanks secure roads into Nablus
Tanks have taken up positions in and around the town
The Israeli army says it has arrested 30 militants during a raid on the West Bank town of Nablus following a deadly attack on an Israeli kibbutz at the weekend.

Palestinian security sources described a mass incursion at 0400 (0200 GMT) involving dozens of tanks and armoured vehicles.

The new government's first order of business would be to expel Arafat

Binyamin Netanyahu, Israeli Foreign Minister
In a statement, the army said those arrested were mostly from the Islamic group Hamas. The operation started 24 hours after Israeli troops raided the nearby town of Tulkarm, arresting three men.

Israel security sources said the hunt for the gunman is focusing on a man identified as Sirhan Sirhan, a distant relative of the assassin of United States Senator Robert Kennedy, who has the same name.

The wanted man is said to be a militant from the refugee camp in Tulkarm and affiliated to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement.

Israel radio said the troops had taken over the Nablus as well as the nearby Askar and Ballata refugee camps.

Troops have also occupied the West Bank town of Bir Zeit, north of Ramallah.

"The soldiers received a mandate to operate for as long as necessary to destroy the infrastructures of Palestinian terrorist organisations following very many alerts of attacks planned from these sectors," the radio said.

Missile attack

Earlier, Israeli military helicopters fired missiles on Gaza City, targeting a metal workshop which was also attacked in the early hours of Monday morning.

An army spokesman said the workshop was a weapons-making facility.

The operations began the day after the kibbutz attack in which a gunman killed five Israelis, including a mother and her two children.

Israel says the gunman in the kibbutz attack came from Tulkarm but that he received his orders from the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade - an offshoot of Mr Arafat's Fatah movement - in Nablus.

The violence is threatening to overshadow a new US diplomatic drive to gain acceptance for an international plan to revive peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

The BBC's Jeremy Cooke in Jerusalem says Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is under pressure from the Americans to keep things quiet in the occupied territories while preparations for war against Iraq continue.

But the prime minister also knows that domestic politics there mean he must be seen to be taking strong action, our correspondent says.

He is facing a serious challenge from current Foreign Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who wants to unseat Mr Sharon and lead their right-wing party into new general elections.

Arafat pledge

On Tuesday, Mr Netanyahu vowed to eject Mr Arafat from the Palestinian territories if he is elected prime minister.

"The new government's first order of business would be to expel Arafat. I would expel Arafat," Mr Netanyahu said in a televised speech.

Avi Ohayon at his family's funeral
The violence is threatening a US diplomatic initiative
Mr Arafat has denied his Fatah movement was involved in the kibbutz killings, which had been claimed by the al-Aqsa Brigades.

"This is not the first time for me to be blamed for such an action. You should not forget that we have condemned it immediately in an official condemnation," he said.

Earlier, the Palestinian leader ordered an investigation into the killings.

The violence came as the US pushed to gain support for a roadmap envisaging Israeli withdrawals from the West Bank and the creation of a Palestinian state by the end of 2005.

US State Department envoy David Satterfield held a second day of talks with Israeli leaders on Tuesday, ahead of planned meetings with Palestinian officials in Jericho.

The Palestinians have accepted the plan in principle, while Israel has yet to officially respond.

In Egypt, members of the Palestinian militant group Hamas held a fourth day of talks with Fatah officials, reportedly including discussions on ending suicide attacks in Israel.

Hamas, however, denied the topic was on the agenda, vowing that "martyrdom operations" against Israel would continue, the Associated Press news agency quoted a Hamas official as saying.

The BBC's Liz Blunt
"Roads in and out of Nablus are sealed"
The BBC's Simon Wilson reports from Jerusalem
"Arrests were made and the home of a local militia leader was demolished"

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See also:

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