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Israel military sweeps West Bank as outrage grows

U.S. State Department security officers evacuate foreign nationals Wednesday from the Star Hotel in Bethlehem.  

BETHLEHEM, West Bank (CNN) -- Both military and diplomatic fronts widened in the Middle East Wednesday as Israelis sent tanks and troops into more Palestinian towns amid growing outrage from other countries.

Hundreds of Israeli tanks and soldiers entered more West Bank towns Wednesday as the secretary-general of the Arab League denounced the operation as "carnage" and said Palestinian civilians were suffering.

"The situation is very, very serious, and it is going from bad to worse," Amre Moussa told CNN.

The expanded Israeli campaign in the West Bank came as anger flared throughout the Arab world and the European Union held an emergency meeting on the crisis. EU diplomats agreed to dispatch a delegation to the region, possibly as early as Thursday.

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Egypt -- which was the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel -- announced it was suspending all ties with Israel except for diplomatic contacts. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has warned U.S. President Bush that the Israeli invasion of Palestinian territories is rapidly spinning out of control, senior Arab diplomats said Wednesday. (Full story)

Israel says its incursion into the West Bank is meant to dismantle Palestinian terrorist networks, and it has besieged the Ramallah office of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat with tanks and troops since Friday. Israeli officials denied a U.S. request to allow Middle East envoy Anthony Zinni to meet with Arafat in Ramallah, CNN learned Wednesday. (Full story)

The Israeli military operations in the West Bank began during a wave of Palestinian suicide bombings, the first of which occurred last week at a hotel in Netanya on the first day of Passover.

Late Wednesday, about 400 to 500 Israeli tanks and armored vehicles entered Nablus and exchanged fire with Palestinian militants defending the largest West Bank city, a spokeswoman for the Nablus governor's office said. (Full story)

Israeli tanks and armored personnel carriers also rumbled into Tulkarem and its nearby villages late Wednesday, striking at key Palestinian buildings and rounding up suspected militants, Palestinian sources said.

The Israel Defense Forces would say only that operations were under way in both towns.

Nineteen Palestinians were killed in the military operations Wednesday, including a girl who died in her Nablus home when it was struck by a tank shell, hospital sources said.

Earlier Wednesday, Israel sent tanks and troops into the town of Jenin and the village of Salfit to search for militants and weapons, Israeli military sources said.

Meanwhile, Hezbollah guerrillas clashed with Israeli troops Wednesday for the second consecutive day along the Israel-Lebanon border. (Full story)

In Bethlehem, in the West Bank, as many as 200 Palestinians, mostly men, remained holed up in one of Christianity's holiest shrines, the Church of the Nativity. (Bethlehem map)

Armored personnel carriers evacuated Americans, Britons and at least one Japanese woman from a hotel, according to Sean Riordan, an activist with the Independent Media Group.




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