Newsletter : 2fax0408.txt
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Israeli Siege of West Bank Continues
By VOA News
Israeli troops continued to pound the West Bank cities of Nablus
and Jenin Sunday, despite fresh U.S. demands for Israeli withdrawal
from the cities it has occupied in its current offensive.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon defended the offensive at the beginning
of his weekly cabinet meeting. He told Israeli TV that Israel has
no interest in dragging out the campaign, but said "we have to do
Israeli troops have occupied most population centers in the West
Bank but have continued to run into stiff opposition in Nablus and
Jenin, both strongholds of Palestinian militant groups. The army
said it has killed 30 Palestinians in Nablus since Friday.
Palestinians put the number dead at 27.
Israel's army chief of staff, General Shaul Mofaz put the overall
Palestinian death toll since the drive began at 200 killed. He said
14 Israeli soldiers have been killed and 1,500 Palestinians have
been wounded since the operation began 10 days ago. Independent
verification of the totals was impossible because journalists have
been barred from the area.
Palestinians say Israeli forces have now moved into villages near
Ramallah, including Beit Rima and Koubar. Soldiers are also still
deployed inside Ramallah, as well as Nablus, the largest city in
the West Bank.
Meanwhile, in Bethlehem, at least 200 Palestinians, including
gunmen, remain holed up in the Church of the Nativity for a sixth
day, surrounded by Israeli forces.
Diplomats at the Vatican have put forward a plan aimed at resolving
the standoff between Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen inside
that church. Details of the Vatican proposal are not known, but
Reuters news agency quoted a church spokesman - Father David Jaeger
- as saying the plan is honorable, peaceful and capable of
The Palestinian gunmen and civilians took refuge in the church last
week, and they have remained holed up there, along with 40
Franciscan monks and four nuns. Israeli troops have surrounded the
church, which is considered one of the holiest sites in
The Israeli army wants the armed men, some of whom are suspected
terrorists, to surrender, and the Franciscans in the church,
fearing a bloodbath, have vowed to stay inside.
The Vatican has a diplomatic mission in Jerusalem, which overseas
the Church's work in Israel and the Palestinian territories. Its
embassy to the Jewish state is in Jaffa.
Israel's Aim: Destroy Terrorist Networks
By Laurie Kassman (VOA-Jerusalem)
Israeli military commanders say the situation in the northern West
bank towns of Tulkarem and Qalqilya is calm and they expect to take
control of Nablus and Jenin by Monday after several days of fierce
fighting. At least 14 Israeli soldiers and some 200 Palestinians
have died in the fighting since the military operations were
launched nearly two weeks ago.
Despite mounting international pressure to withdraw the troops,
Maj. Gen. Dan Harel said ending the operations too soon defeats the
goal, which he said was to destroy terrorist networks operating in
the West Bank.
"If we do it too soon, then another series of devastating terror
attacks will hit Israeli cities and streets. And then we'll go in,"
said Harel. "Paradoxically, if we stay in and fight the terrorist
infrastructure and get higher achievements, then maybe we will be
able to rest [stop] a little these terrorist hits."
A tight curfew in Bethlehem kept Palestinian Christians in
Bethlehem from attending regular Sunday church services. Since the
start of Operation Defensive Shield, Israeli forces have been
sharply criticized by the Red Cross for attacking ambulances and
preventing Palestinian medical teams from reaching the injured.
After talks with the head of the International Red Cross on Sunday,
Israel's deputy foreign minister says the military will buy three
new ambulances for the Palestinian Red Crescent to replace those
destroyed by its tanks.
US Official Urges Immediate Israeli Pullout
By Jessica Berman (VOA-Washington)
Secretary of State Colin Powell left Sunday to visit some Muslim
nations and Israel in search of an end to violence between Israelis
and the Palestinians. The Bush administration has strongly urged
Israel to pull back its troops from Palestinian areas in advance of
U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said President
Bush's message to Israel is very clear, that Israel must begin its
troop withdrawal "now, without delay, not tomorrow."
"He believes the situation in the Middle East is now at a tipping
point," she added. "We are at a crucial point, and he has said to
our good friend Israel that it is time to begin withdrawal from the
occupied areas, the areas that they have recently occupied, and it
is time to reverse and to change the dynamics of this situation."
Interviewed Sunday on CBS television's Face the Nation, Rice said
the U.S. understands that Israel's military mobilization cannot be
undone in moments. But she also told interviewers Israel must not
wait for the arrival in the region of Powell. She restated the
Administration's call that all parties to the conflict must act to
end the violence.
Appearing on another television program Sunday, NBC's Meet the
Press, the chief Palestinian representative in the United States,
Hassan Abdel Rahman, reacted to the U.S. communication to Israel:
"Once they would go, I assure you that we are very eager to reach
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