At least six Palestinians killed in Israeli raid in West Bank

War on terrorism: Israeli incursion
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The Independent Online

At least six Palestinians were killed Wednesday in an Israeli incursion into a West Bank village, Israeli and Palestinian officials said, one of the bloodiest clashes in more than a year of fighting.

Palestinians said the casualties were much higher, and Israel radio quoted military sources saying that 10 Palestinians were killed.

Israeli forces entered the village of Beit Rima, north of the town of Ramallah, after midnight. The Israeli military said the purpose of the operation was to arrest suspected militants. Armed Palestinians opened fire on the Israeli forces, and soldiers returned the fire, the military said.

Palestinian security sources, requesting anonymity, said that during the operation, Israeli forces arrested four Palestinian suspects in the assassination of Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi on Oct. 17. The Israeli military would not comment.

Israel's largest military operation in the West Bank since 1994 began after the assassination. Israeli tanks and troops moved into six West Bank towns, exchanging fire with gunmen. Palestinian casualties included many civilians.

Palestinians complained that Israeli forces did not allow their ambulances to enter Beit Rima to evacuate the wounded. Israeli army spokesman Lt. Col. Olivier Rafowicz said the ambulances were banned "because the operation was still in progress."

Israel's move into two villages overnight came despite US demands to withdraw from Palestinian territory. In a meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, US President George W. Bush called on Israel to pull its forces out "as quickly as possible."

However, in a speech to mark seven days since Zeevi was assassinated, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon repeated his conditions for a pullout. He said the Palestinians must arrest the assassins of Zeevi and turn them over, disarm militants and crush rogue groups that have been attacking Israel.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat said that Israel is ignoring US policy. Arafat spokesman Nabil Abu Rdeneh said Israel was "challenging" the United States by "conducting terror" against Palestinian civilians and refusing to withdraw from the Palestinian-controlled areas.

"The United States of America and the world should stop this aggression immediately," Abu Rdeneh said.

American officials have expressed concern that the upsurge in Mideast violence could sabotage efforts to bring moderate Arab states into a coalition to fight international terrorism.

UN Mideast envoy Terje Roed-Larsen warned in a release on Wednesday that Israel and the Palestinians faced "the most dangerous moment in a decade."

Palestinian security sources, requesting anonymity, said that during the operation, Israeli forces arrested four Palestinian suspects in the assassination of Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi on Oct. 17. The Israeli military would not comment.

Israel's largest military operation in the West Bank since 1994 began after the assassination. Israeli tanks and troops moved into six West Bank towns, exchanging fire with gunmen. Palestinian casualties included many civilians.

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