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Israeli Troops Search for Militants

October 26, 2002

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JERUSALEM (AP) _ Israeli troops searched the West Bank town of Jenin on Saturday for Palestinian militants involved in a suicide bombing, and a U.S. envoy left the region with neither side optimistic about the latest peace proposal.

A 13-year-old Palestinian boy was killed in the Rafah refugee camp in the Gaza Strip when soldiers shot at Palestinians throwing stones and firebombs, local residents said. The army did not immediately comment.

In an army operation in Jenin that began Friday, soldiers imposed a curfew on the 50,000 residents of the town and its refugee camp and began searching from house to house after dark Saturday.

Dozens of Palestinians were arrested in the searches, including residents with no connections to militant groups, witnesses said. The army said soldiers arrested 30 suspects including a bomber on the way to an attack and two relatives of one of the two teenage suicide bombers who carried out an attack on a bus last Monday that killed 14 people.

In Rafah, a hot spot in the two years of fighting, soldiers shot and injured three Palestinians Saturday when a crowd began throwing firebombs and stones at bulldozers fortifying an army outpost there along the border with Egypt, witnesses and doctors said. One of the injured Palestinians, the 13-year-old boy, died of his wounds hours later, doctors said.

After dark, about 15 tanks and two bulldozers moved into the camp and began demolishing structures not far from the border, residents said. Dozens of homes in the camp have been destroyed by the army, which accuses Palestinian militants of using them as hideouts to attack soldiers.

The army did not immediately comment on the operation in Rafah.

Meanwhile, Assistant Secretary of State William Burns wrapped up a visit during which he presented the Israelis and Palestinians with the peace plan that calls for a provisional Palestinian state by the end of 2003 and full independence by 2005.

But Israel complained the proposal did not fully address its security concerns, while Palestinians said the plan’s omission of presidential elections was an effort to sideline Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Arafat has said he is still studying the plan and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is slated to give a response within a week.

Burns will take the comments back to the Quartet _ the United States, United Nations, European Union, and Russia _ which is to adopt the final plan by December.

The U.S. snub of Arafat was clear in Burns’ visit _ the envoy met with a Palestinian legislator at her home just a few yards from Arafat’s office in the West Bank town of Ramallah. The United States has criticized Arafat for not taking a firmer hand against anti-Israeli militants and has also pressed for political and economic reform in the Palestinian Authority.

In explaining Israel’s operation in Jenin, Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer called the town a ``capital of terror″ and said troops would ``clean up″ the town. Arafat called the incursion a ``crime.″

Near Jenin on Saturday, troops arrested an activist of the militant group Hamas, Mahmud Abadi, who was on his way to carry out a suicide bombing in Israel, the army said.

The Israeli operation in Jenin will continue for a week, or longer, Israeli television reported Saturday. Israeli troops have been in most West Bank towns since June, an operation that began after a series of suicide bombings.

Israeli troops pulled back to the outskirts of Jenin on Oct. 18, but the suicide attack came three days later, and Israel said the bombers were from the Jenin area.

In addition to those in Jenin, about 15 Palestinians were arrested in the West Bank over the weekend, the army said.

Overnight in the West Bank town of Nablus, members of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a militia linked to Arafat’s Fatah movement, dragged two sisters from their home and shot them both in their legs, claiming they collaborated with Israel’s intelligence services.

One of the women, Haifa Rihan, a 39-year-old divorced mother of six, died afterward, an Al Aqsa member said on condition of anonymity.

On Friday, Israeli troops pulled out of much of the Palestinian sector of Hebron, but remained in three neighborhoods there in an effort to protect about 500 Jewish settlers who live in the center of the town.

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