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Israel Expands Operations in Northern West Bank


Israel is expanding its operations to the northern West Bank on the fourth day of a military campaign against Palestinian terrorists. Troops are already in control of Ramallah, Qalqilya and Beit Jala, and tanks remain on the outskirts of Bethlehem.

Israeli tanks have rolled into the West Bank town of Tulkarem, after taking control of nearby Qalqilya. Both towns are considered strongholds of Palestinian militants.

Troops and tanks have already taken control of Beit Jala on the outskirts of Jerusalem, which Palestinian snipers have used to shoot at a Jewish neighborhood across the valley.

Eight protesters were injured in Beit Jala, when they tried to march up to Israeli tanks during a demonstration of about 100 foreign peace activists. An Israeli soldier fired at the ground in front of them, and shrapnel hit some of the demonstrators. A Palestinian TV cameraman working for an international news agency was also injured.

10 foreign peace activists who had entered Yasser Arafat's office on Sunday have been deported from Israel. But more than 80 Italians have joined other European and American peace protesters in Ramallah, despite the curfew imposed there.

Meanwhile, Israeli soldiers in Ramallah are continuing their house-to-house search for Palestinian militants and illegal weapons. Residents of the city reported several explosions earlier in the day, as Israeli forces fired at buildings where Palestinian suspects were hiding.

Staff at a medical relief office in Ramallah say they were evacuated at gun point, while soldiers searched the premises.

The military says it has rounded up more than 500 Palestinian men for questioning.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has called Yasser Arafat an enemy of Israel, but he says the military campaign underway now does not aim to harm him personally.

Mr. Arafat remains a virtual prisoner, while Israeli tanks and troops surround his Ramallah office.

Mr. Sharon says Israel is at war against terrorism, but he does not say how long the military operations will last. Newspaper commentators speculate that Mr. Sharon is racing against the clock, as international pressure increases on Israel to withdraw its troops.

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