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Israel Seizes Palestinian Town - 2002-01-21


For the first time in nearly 16 months of fighting, Israeli troops have taken over an entire Palestinian-ruled city in the West Bank. At least one Palestinian was killed and eight wounded during the operation.

Israeli soldiers, backed by combat helicopters, tanks and armored personnel carriers, raided the West Bank city of Tulkarm. The army imposed a curfew on the area, searched homes and arrested suspected militants.

Palestinian officials in Tulkarm urged residents over mosque loudspeakers to defy the curfew and resist Israeli troops.

Soldiers also took over a number of buildings and hoisted Israeli flags on rooftops.

Palestinian gunmen in the Tulkarm refugee camp traded fire with Israeli troops.

The Israeli military says Tulkarm is "a hotbed for terrorist activity." The army says its operation is designed to dismantle the "terrorist infrastructure" in the city.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's foreign policy advisor, Danny Ayalon, says Israel must arrest people in Tulkarm because the Palestinian Authority has failed to do so. "What we have to do is a clear operation of self-defense," he said. "Where the Palestinians do not do their responsibilities according to all the agreements, where they do not arrest the terrorists, where they don't prevent and stop terror, we have to do it."

Military officials say a Palestinian gunman who killed six Israelis last week in the northern town of Hadera "began his activity" in Tulkarm.

The gunman was a member of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, an armed militia linked to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah group.

The Palestinian burst into a banquet hall, spraying Jewish partygoers with automatic weapons fire before being shot dead by police.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat condemned the Israeli raid into Tulkarm, saying it "crossed all red lines." Mr. Arafat called the incursion, "a very dangerous thing," and "an implementation of the Israeli plan of aggression against the Palestinian Authority."

Since the outbreak of fighting in September 2000, Israeli troops have repeatedly entered Palestinian-ruled towns and villages, but Monday's raid appeared to be the largest and marked the first time Israel re-occupied an entire Palestinian city.

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