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Israeli Troops Enter Bethlehem - 2002-11-22

Israeli troops today entered the West Bank city of Bethlehem in a major operation following a terrorist attack in Jerusalem on Thursday in which a suicide bomber killed himself and 11 other people. Israeli forces have also begun raids in parts of the Gaza Strip.

Israel launched offensives on two different fronts Friday. Its troops reoccupied Bethlehem in the West Bank and are also attacked armed Palestinians in various areas of the Gaza Strip.

In Bethlehem, the soldiers sealed off the city, and began searches for 30 Palestinian militants suspected of organizing Thursday's suicide bus bombing in Jerusalem as well as other attacks. Tanks have been deployed in Manger Square, outside the Church of the Nativity, built over the spot where tradition holds Jesus was born. The Israelis want to prevent any wanted Palestinians from entering the church and engaging in a standoff with the soldiers.

In April, a group of armed Palestinians stormed the church, triggering a siege by Israeli soldiers. The siege finally ended when the Palestinians agreed to be sent to the Gaza Strip or into exile abroad.

Israeli troops withdrew from Bethlehem in August, under an understanding with the Palestinian Authority that the area would not be used as a base to launch attacks.

The pull-back was to serve as model for a phased withdrawal from all Palestinian self-areas in the West Bank that Israeli forces occupied in June, following an earlier campaign of suicide bombings.

On Friday, Ra'anan Gissin, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, accused the Palestinian Authority of actively encouraging terrorism. He says in light of the continuing Palestinian attacks, it seems futile for Israel to withdraw from some areas.