Palestinians say Israelis move into West Bank again
Israelis deny troop movements
JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israeli troops and armor launched a brief incursion into the Palestinian-controlled West Bank and withdrew early Wednesday, their second such move in two days, witnesses and Palestinian sources said.
Witnesses said Israeli forces moved into five villages near Bethlehem shortly before midnight and withdrew about 30 minutes later. Israel Defense Forces denied any activity in the area or entering Palestinian territory.
Palestinian security sources said five Israeli tanks moved into the villages of Asakara, Harmala, Beit Taamar, Al-Aruj and Fourdais, situated between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. All are under Palestinian civil control and Israeli security control.
The eyewitnesses said some bulldozers and more tanks had assembled near Fourdais, near an Israeli army base.
The reported move came about 18 hours after an incursion into the West Bank town of Jenin. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon Tuesday warned Palestinians they would pay an increasing "political price" for continued violence.
"If the violence continues, the Palestinians will lose more assets, and they have something to lose," Sharon said at a ceremony for police Tuesday afternoon.
His comments followed a 3.5-hour incursion into the West Bank city of Jenin during which tanks, troops and bulldozers, backed by helicopters, surrounded the main government building and flattened a police station.
Israeli officials justified the incursion by saying Jenin had become a "city of bombers." They said the perpetrators of two recent suicide bombers came from Jenin, and they accused Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat of failing to stop terror attacks.
Israel Defense Forces refused to comment on Tuesday's later troop movements. Earlier, the IDF said Palestinian gunmen had been firing for several hours from Beit Jala toward Gilo, a Jewish enclave outside Jerusalem built on land taken by Israel in 1967.
Israelis consider Gilo a suburb of Jerusalem, but Palestinians consider it occupied territory. Israeli authorities said one Gilo resident had been slightly wounded by flying glass.
Sharon adviser Dore Gold said Israel had no intention of retaking Palestinian lands but, he said, "This is a message to the Palestinian Authority to stop the terrorism and stop it now.
"Prime Minister Sharon has been absolutely clear about his goals. He wants to reach limited arrangements, pragmatic arrangements with the Palestinian Authority, but there cannot be peace with terrorism," Gold said.
Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi said the move into Jenin, which has been under Palestinian security and civilian control since 1995, "shows very clearly that this Israeli government has no peace agenda at all.
"Its only agenda is more death and destruction and consolidating the occupation and destroying very essence and foundations of peace," Ashrawi said.
The Tuesday morning incursion was the first time Israel had moved against Palestinian Authority facilities in an area under direct Palestinian control.
Palestinian Cabinet member Saeb Erakat accused Sharon of trying to end the peace process by "opening the gates of hell" and said the Palestinians would seek U.N. protection.
A spokesman for the radical Islamic movement Hamas went further Tuesday, warning of stepped-up reprisals against Israelis. Hamas has claimed responsibility for some of the deadliest attacks against Israel so far.
"If Sharon is going to escalate by invading cities, I believe that the Palestinians will escalate their resistance," Abdel Aziz Rantisi, a Hamas leader, told The Associated Press.
The raid on Jenin and its aftermath prompted renewed calls for calm in the region. Speaking on a trip to Colorado, U.S. President George W. Bush repeated his Monday call for both sides to do more to end the conflict.
"Mr. Arafat must clamp down on the suicide bombers and on the violence, and the Israelis must show restraint," Bush said Tuesday.
It is essential that the violence stop, he said. "I feel very strongly about it, because I'm worried about the cycle of violence continuing to escalate. Its not good for that part of the world, nor for the rest of the world, that the Middle East be a place of violence.
Elsewhere, 22-year-old Palestinian man was killed and another injured in a large explosion in the West Bank town of Nablus Tuesday morning, according to the Palestine Red Crescent Society. The group did not say what caused the blast.
The IDF said it had no role in the explosion. And Israel Radio reported doctors who treated the man said his injuries indicated he was working on a bomb.
Israel sharpened its response to attacks on Israelis after a suicide bomber set off an explosion on Thursday in a central Jerusalem pizzeria, killing the bomber and 15 people and injuring about 100 others.
On Friday, Israel seized Orient House -- the unofficial headquarters of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the symbol of Palestinian aspirations for an independent state -- and raised the Israeli flag atop it.
Israel also occupied the house of the governor of the area surrounding Abu Dis -- a town just outside Jerusalem -- which is the headquarters for the Palestinian police and security forces in the area. In addition, Israeli forces closed at least seven other buildings. The Israelis said the Palestinians had violated security agreements.
Erakat said the move into the West Bank portended a bad turn in the peace process.
"The whole Middle East region, if they go ahead with their occupation of the West Bank again and the Gaza Strip again, will never be the same," he said.
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