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Israel Imposes New Restrictions After Palestinian Attacks - 2002-08-05

Israel says the entire northern part of the West Bank has been sealed off and plans are underway to intensify the closure of Palestinian areas. Israel has barred Palestinian traffic in and around five West Bank cities - Jenin, Nablus, Tulkarem, Qalqilyah and Ramallah - except for medical and humanitarian cases.

Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said the order means there is a total closure of the northern West Bank. "No one goes in, and no one goes out," he said, adding that Rafah, in the Gaza Strip near the border with Egypt, has also been sealed off.

Mr. Ben-Eliezer said that in recent months, Israel has captured about 140 Palestinians preparing to carry out suicide bombing missions. He said the arrests will continue, along with the demolition of homes. He also said Israel would begin the deportation of family members to the Gaza Strip in order to discourage further attacks.

Mr. Ben-Eliezer warned that the Israeli army has planned "a long list of operations" with the goal of implementing an even more severe closure of Palestinians areas.

In one of the latest raids, Israeli commandos captured Mazen Fukhah, the Hamas commander allegedly responsible for dispatching the suicide bomber who destroyed a bus Sunday near Safed, killing nine people and injuring 52 others.

Hamas took responsibility for the attack and also last week's bombing at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The organization says its attacks were to avenge the death of their military leader Salah Shehadeh, killed last month in an Israeli air strike on his home in Gaza City.

Meanwhile, Israeli forces continued to search for the Palestinian gunmen who shot dead an Israeli man and his pregnant wife as they were traveling near Ramallah.

It was the fifth attack in a wave of terror that spanned less than 24 hours.

In other news, Mr. Sharon's cabinet appears to be seeking a balance between Israel's security needs and a concern that more punishing measures could entirely collapse the Palestinian economy. But, Mr. Sharon's inability to stop the violence is coming under greater scrutiny than ever before.

In a front-page editorial Monday, the Hebrew newspaper Ma'ariv wrote Mr. Sharon had campaigned for office with promises to "restore security to our homes, our streets, our places of entertainment and to the buses that we take." But the violence continues, the newspaper said, and it called on the prime minister to "address the public to explain himself, his actions, and his failings."

In reaction to the latest violence, Mr. Sharon reportedly told his cabinet that Palestinian militant groups have "grown accustomed" to the Israeli army's tactics and there is a need to make what he called "more sophisticated" actions against them. Mr. Sharon and his defense minister, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, also canceled planned meetings with senior officials of the Palestinian Authority.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres was due to go to Egypt for talks with President Hosni Mubarak in Alexandria. Mr. Peres planned to tell the Egyptian leader that what he called "the [Palestinian] terror organizations" are destroying the future of the Palestinian people.