Israeli troops raid Palestinian town

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The Independent Online

Israeli troops raided two Palestinian residential areas in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank on Thursday killing one Palestinian.

Palestinian hospital officials said a 23 year­old man was killed and 13 Palestinians wounded in fire fights with the Israeli troops in the Gaza Strip town of Khan Younis.

Israeli troops and tanks also raided the West Bank village of Shawarwa, near Bethlehem.

The army said the raids were in response to persistent Palestinian shooting attacks and the failure of the Palestinian Authority to arrest militants who attack Israelis.

Palestinian security chief Maj. Gen. Abdel Razek Majaidie said the Israeli tanks, along with armored personnel carriers and a bulldozer, entered the Khan Younis refugee camp early Thursday, advancing about 800 meters into Palestinian­controlled territory.

Witnesses and the army said the bulldozers destroyed two buildings on the west side of the camp facing Israeli settlements. Other houses were badly damaged by tank or machine–gun fire.

Camp leaders used mosque loudspeakers to call people out to fight the Israelis, witnesses said. The army said Palestinians opened fire on the troops, who returned fire. None of the soldiers was hit, the army said.

After the troops withdrew, Palestinian women were trying to recover their belongings from the ruins of the two houses. A Palestinian father of 12, Muhammed Abu­Louz, 52, standing among burnt mattresses and bedding, saying this was his second house which had been destroyed by the Israelis.

The army said in the past month 23 mortar bombs have been fired at nearby Israeli settlements and army positions from the houses that were demolished, and they had also been used as cover for shooting attacks.

In Shawarwa eight Palestinian militants were arrested, the army said, and grenades, a mortar and ammunition for small arms were seized. One Palestinian was shot and wounded in the arm when trying to escape, and was treated by an army medical crew on the spot, the army said.

The troops withdrew Thursday morning from Khan Younis and Shawarwa, the army said, but a Palestinian security source in Bethlehem said soldiers were still occupying one house in Shawarwa.

Also, Palestinian television reported that Israeli tanks advanced further into the West Bank town of Tulkarem, one of two towns Israeli forces are holding.

After the October 17 assassination of an Israeli Cabinet minister by Palestinian militants, Israeli forces moved into parts of six West Bank towns, arresting dozens of suspected militants. They withdrew from four but retained control of parts of Tulkarem and Jenin in the northern part of the West Bank, saying that there were warnings that militants from the towns were planning attacks on Israel.

The US State Department has repeatedly called on Israel to pull out of Palestinian areas, and Palestinians called the incursions part of a pattern of Israeli aggression.

On Wednesday in Jenin, Palestinian police arrested a leading activist in the militant Islamic Jihad, setting off a riot by several thousand Palestinians, who stormed security headquarters.

Islamic Jihad leaders said Palestinian police plucked Mahmoud Tawalbi, 23, off a Jenin street and whisked him to a prison in Nablus, 15 miles to the south. They said Tawalbi was suspected by Israel of recruiting suicide bombers and sending them into Israel.

About 3,000 Palestinians, protesting the arrest, surrounded Palestinian Preventive Security headquarters in Jenin, firing guns, throwing grenades and burning cars. A security official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed that Tawalbi had been arrested.

Israel welcomed the arrest. Raanan Gissin, spokesman for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said it shows that the Palestinians "are doing what they are supposed to do." He said Tawalbi had been arrested in the past. "This time I hope they will keep him behind bars," he said.

Israel has been demanding that Arafat order the arrest of militants, and the U.S. State Department has also told Arafat to move against the violent groups.

The arrest came as U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell scheduled a key Middle East policy speech for next Monday. the State Department said Powell would speak at the University of Louisville.

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