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Heavy Fighting Continues in West Bank - 2002-04-04

Israeli troops, backed by tanks, have engaged in heavy fighting with Palestinian gunmen, as Israel took over the West Bank city, Nablus, today. The Palestinian leadership has called on its people to prepare for a long resistance against the Israeli military offensive.

Palestinian witnesses say dozens of Israeli tanks and armored vehicles rolled into Nablus, encountering fierce resistance from some of the residents.

Gun battles have erupted between soldiers and Palestinians who are refusing to surrender to the Israeli troops.

Nablus is the biggest city in the West Bank and also is one of the strongest areas of Palestinian resistance.

The Israeli soldiers have encircled at least three adjacent Palestinian refugee camps.

As the tanks moved in, the Palestinian Authority issued a statement calling on the Palestinian people to "close ranks in a long-term struggle" against what it describes as an "unjust and criminal war."

More than 1,000 Palestinians have been arrested since the Israeli military offensive began last Friday.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has remained confined to his West Bank headquarters in Ramallah, surrounded by Israeli forces.

And, in Bethlehem, there is tense stand off between Palestinian gunmen and Israeli troops who are stationed outside the Church of the Nativity, built over the place where tradition holds Jesus was born.

Dozens of Palestinian gunmen have taken refuge inside the church, along with priests, nuns and other civilians.

As the crisis in the Middle East intensifies, the European Union decided to send a high-level diplomatic mission to Israel and the Palestinian territories to help calm the growing conflict. However, Israel says the EU delegation will not be allowed to meet with Mr. Arafat.