Israeli Forces Raid West Bank Areas
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JERUSALEM (AP) _ Israeli forces entered two Palestinian areas in the West Bank on Friday, arresting suspected militants and exchanging fire with Palestinian gunmen. The fighting left four Palestinians wounded, including one who was marching in a funeral procession.
Yasser Arafat, meanwhile, said in interviews published Friday that he held no grudge against Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who has called for replacing Arafat with another group of Palestinian leaders.
``I forgive Sharon,″ the Maariv daily quoted Arafat as saying. ``I want to send him a message from the heart: `Please, Sharon, let us sit together at the table.‴
Arafat suggested restarting peace talks where they ended in January 2001. Sharon has said he did not feel bound by peace offers made by his moderate predecessor and would not resume talks until all violence stopped.
Also Friday, an Israeli woman was stabbed and critically wounded in a wooded area of Jerusalem. Police shot at masked Palestinians running from the scene, wounding one in the arm. Another one collapsed and died during the chase, while two more suspects were arrested later, police said.
Before dawn Friday, Israel tanks drove into Tamoun, a West Bank village of 7,000 Palestinians, in search of militants. Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said Tamoun had a ``concentration of people who are planning attacks in Israel.″
Tamoun is 6 miles from the Jewish settlement of Hamra, where an armed Palestinian killed a soldier, a woman and her disabled daughter Wednesday night before soldiers fatally shot him. Israel’s military said it entered Tamoun to ``hit terrorists and the terrorist infrastructure.″
Later Friday, Palestinian gunmen fired at Israeli tanks in Tamoun, drawing return fire that wounded three Palestinians, including two teen-agers.
In the nearby West Bank city of Nablus, about 1,500 Palestinians attended a memorial march for the Hamra assailant, a member of the Islamic militant group Hamas. Nearby, Palestinian gunmen fired at an Israeli army post on a hilltop overlooking the city. A Palestinian man participating in the march was seriously wounded by Israeli return fire from the hilltop.
Earlier in the day, two Israeli tanks and a bulldozer had entered a Nablus neighborhood, took over a building and forced three families to leave, witnesses said. The building overlooks the city from a hilltop.
The military said soldiers seized positions and tightened their siege because Nablus ``has become a focus of terrorism,″ and the Palestinian who attacked Hamra came from Nablus.
Also Friday, Israeli forces entered a Palestinian neighborhood in the city of Hebron and arrested a leading activist from the militant Islamic Jihad group, Jamal Shehadeh, the military said. A statement said Palestinians fired on the troops as they left, but no one was hurt.
Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat condemned the Israeli operations. ``I see it as a part of the continuing Israeli aggression to destroy the peace process and to destroy the Palestinian Authority,″ he said.
The latest Israeli incursions came after Sharon met in Washington with Bush, who said he would ``keep pressure on Arafat to convince him that he must take serious, concrete, real steps to reduce terrorist activity in the Middle East.″
Bush also expressed concern about the plight of Palestinians ``who aren’t involved in terror.″ Israeli roadblocks, closures and restrictions have crippled the Palestinian economy during more than 16 months of violence.
Israel claims the measures are needed for security. The Palestinians call them collective punishment.
In the interview with Maariv, Arafat denounced violence but also boasted that he has storehouses full of weapons. However, he again denied any ties to a shipment of Iranian arms intercepted in the Red Sea last month. The shipment was crucial in turning U.S. policy against Arafat.
Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, who was in Washington, said in an interview published Friday in the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot that he was surprised by the harsh view senior U.S. officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, had of Arafat.
``On this subject, Cheney was more extreme than Rehavam Zeevi,″ Yediot quoted Ben-Eliezer as saying, referring to the ultranationalist Israeli tourism minister who was assassinated by Palestinian militants in October.
``The vice president told me: `As far as I am concerned, you can also hang him (Arafat),‴ the paper quoted Ben-Eliezer as saying.