Saturday, October 26, 2002

Israeli Forces Again Seize Control of Palestinian West Bank City
Israeli forces again tightened their grip on the West Bank city of Jenin today. Hundreds of soldiers supported by scores of tanks and other armored vehicles swept into the city in what Israel said was a hunt for a terrorist cell behind the suicide attack that killed 14 people on Monday.

The military action followed by a few hours a meeting between Israeli and Palestinian officials on improving security and easing Israeli restrictions in some areas. In a separate development, Israeli Army announced that it had withdrawn troops from most Palestinian areas of the divided city of Hebron, retaining only the strategic heights.

Hospital officials in Jenin reported that two youths were shot and seriously wounded in the early hours of the Israeli action. The Israeli Army reported two exchanges of fire and no Israeli casualties. It said its soldiers had shot and wounded three men, all armed. Israeli soldiers seized at least 40 homes.

Israeli forces eased out of Jenin late last week, seeking to isolate it with a ring of troops and a ditch. Israeli officials said that Israel's reward for this step was the suicide attack, and that the cell, from the Islamic Jihad, was planning more such violence. In Monday's attack, two men drove a bomb-laden sport utility vehicle into a bus.

"Out of some 250,000 people in the Jenin area, we are looking for a cell of no more than 20 terrorists who are bringing misery to everyone," a senior Israeli Army commander said.

Palestinians contend that it is the Israeli occupation of cities like Jenin, and the civilian deaths that have accompanied it, that provoke such attacks. Palestinian officials accused Israel of seeking to sabotage the Bush administration road map, which was presented by Assistant Secretary of State William Burns. Both sides have been cool to the proposal.

Israel did not immediately retaliate for Monday's suicide bombing, and some Israeli officials said the government was trying to keep a low profile to avoid interfering with the Bush administration's efforts against Iraq. But other officials made clear that Israel would pursue those behind the attack.

Jenin has been under curfew most days since Israeli forces first seized it in June after another suicide bombing. The Israeli defense minister, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, called Jenin "the capital of terror," a title that Israeli officials have also applied to Nablus, to the south. He said that Israel wanted to loosen restrictions on Palestinians but could not "when you need to defend your home from suicide bombers and car bombs."

Yasir Arafat, the Palestinian leader, said that the Israeli action was "a continuation of the crimes committed by troops and settlers against our people and our children."