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Profile: Israel Begins Reoccupation of Palestinian Territories on West Bank

Morning Edition: June 21, 2002



Israeli tanks and troops rolled into Nablus as Israel continues to expand its reoccupation of the Palestinian-controlled territory in the West Bank. This latest incursion, followed by hours, an attack on a family in a Jewish settlement near Nablus that left five people dead, including a mother and her three children. NPR's Linda Gradstein reports.


In the West Bank city of Jenin, Palestinian witnesses said Israeli troops fired on a crowded market after Palestinians mistakenly thought an Israeli curfew had been lifted. They said at least three Palestinians, two children and a man, were killed and dozens were injured. The witnesses said ambulances raced to the local hospital where officials said they were overwhelmed by the number of wounded.

Palestinian officials said that in several other incidents in the West Bank and Gaza, at least five Palestinians, including a young boy and a teen-ager were killed. In Nablus, Palestinian security officials said about 50 Israeli tanks entered from three directions. Troops imposed a curfew and conducted house-to-house searches. An Israeli army spokesman said dozens of Palestinians were arrested. Witnesses said that as in Jenin, Israeli troops brought in mobile homes and set up an encampment, an indication they are preparing for a long occupation.

Hassan Ayoub, a Palestinian official in Nablus, describes the situation as grim.

Mr. HASSAN AYOUB: People are very concerned about the long, long, long time of closure and the incursion of Israeli troops. So I can tell that the mood is very negative.

GRADSTEIN: A mood reflected on the Israeli side. Last night, two Palestinian gunmen infiltrated the Jewish settlement of Itamar near Nablus. They broke into a house and opened fire on the family inside, then began shooting in all directions. An Israeli army statement said the gun battle lasted for almost an hour before troops succeeded in killing one of the gunmen. The statement said the other gunman is believed to have escaped. Killed in the attack were a mother and three of her children age 15, 12 and five. It was the third attack on Israeli civilians in three days bringing the total death toll to 31, one of the highest in the 20-month-old Palestinian uprising. So far this week, in response to the attacks, Israel has reoccupied Nablus, Jenin, Qalqilya, Tulkarem and Bethlehem, as well as several Palestinian refugee camps.

Israeli government spokesman Arie Mekel says Israel has reinvaded these Palestinian cities because Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority continues to refuse to confront Palestinian gunmen.

Mr. ARIE MEKEL (Israeli Spokesman): Since the entire Palestinian Authority is now infested with these terror gangs, we have no choice than to continue these operations, maintain a military presence and continue these military operations for as long as it takes.

GRADSTEIN: Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon announced a new reoccupation policy of parts of the West Bank after Tuesday's suicide bus bombing. But the policy sparked a sharp protest by Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, who said he never agreed to a long-term reoccupation of the West Bank. He said Israel should enter Palestinian-controlled areas to arrest suspected militants, but should not stay in these areas as part of a punitive policy.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat today said he supported an ad published this week in a Palestinian newspaper calling for an end to suicide bombings. In an interview with the Israeli newspaper Ha'Aretz today, Arafat was quoted as accusing what he called foreign forces of exploiting young, hopeless Palestinians and encouraging them to commit suicide bombings in exchange for money. Recent polls have found widespread support for suicide bombers among the Palestinian public. Linda Gradstein, NPR News, Jerusalem.

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