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Resurgence of Violence in Gaza Strip

April 20, 2002

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JERUSALEM (AP) _ In a resurgence of violence in the Gaza Strip, a Palestinian gunman shot to death an Israeli border policeman Saturday and was then killed himself, the second straight day of turmoil in a territory that had been relatively calm in recent weeks.

The clashes came as Israel was scaling back its 3-week-old military campaign in the West Bank. Troops were seen leaving some neighborhoods of the city of Ramallah late Saturday, taking up new positions just outside the city.

``Any place that we’ve finished ... we pull out,″ said Raanan Gissin, spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. He said troops would stay around Yasser Arafat’s Ramallah headquarters.

Israel has said it will maintain its siege at the compound where the Palestinian leader is confined until he turns over suspects in the October killing of Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi.

Despite the pullback, Palestinians still can’t safely walk the streets in the Jenin refugee camp, where fierce fighting ended more than a week ago.

Eleven people have been wounded in the past two days by stepping on unexploded ordnance, or opening booby-trapped doors that Palestinian gunmen intended for Israeli troops, the Jenin hospital said.

With the Palestinian gunmen either killed or arrested by Israeli forces, no one with knowledge of the booby traps is around to warn Palestinians returning to their homes.

``I went to my aunt’s house to get some things. When I opened the door, it exploded on me,″ said Ala al-Ratef, 15, whose face and right arm were blackened and burned.

Wael Omari, a Palestinian nurse who was part of a medical team going through the camp, injured his foot when he stepped on an explosive Saturday.

In a visit of the camp on Saturday, U.S. Middle East envoy William Burns described it as a ``terrible human tragedy.″

``What happened in Jenin camp has caused enormous suffering of innocent Palestinian civilians,″ said Burns, who called for urgent humanitarian assistance.

The scale of the death and destruction in the refugee camp remains a subject of bitter dispute. Israel says dozens of Palestinians were killed, most of them militants. Palestinian officials have estimated the death toll in the hundreds.

So far, 43 Palestinian bodies have been found in the camp, six of them women, children or elderly men, according to the Jenin hospital and other Palestinian sources in the city.

The U.N. Security Council voted Friday night to send a fact-finding team to Jenin. Both Israel and the Palestinians say they support the visit.

In West Bank violence, an apparent suicide bomber blew himself up near the border between the West Bank town of Qalqilya and the Israeli town of Kfar Saba, the army said. Nobody else was hurt, the radio said.

Israel’s military offensive in the West Bank has been the focus of the Mideast fighting for the past three weeks, and the Gaza Strip has been largely calm. But in recent days, Gaza has heated up with violence.

On Saturday, a lone Palestinian charged a heavily fortified Israeli crossing point, killing an Israeli border policeman with gunfire and grenades before he was killed by return fire from an Israeli tank.

The Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, a militia linked to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement, claimed responsibility.

A day earlier, Israeli forces killed five Palestinians in confrontations in Gaza, and a Palestinian bomber blew himself up in an attack on an Israeli military checkpoint.

In a funeral procession in Gaza City for two of those killed Friday, hundreds of chanting Palestinians marched in the burial service for militants from the Islamic Jihad movement.

Sharon ``should expect all doors of hell to break loose,″ vowed one masked militant at the funeral. ``We are ready for martyrdom.″

Israeli troops pulled out of Jenin and the adjacent refugee camp Friday. Israel began its massive West Bank military offensive on March 29 with the aim of crushing the Palestinian militias behind deadly attacks inside Israel over the past 18 months.

It has captured or killed at least 15 Palestinians on its most wanted list, according to the findings of The AP, which questioned Palestinian security officials, militant groups, hospital workers and relatives of those on the list published in January by Israel’s Yediot Ahronot newspaper.

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