Israeli tanks move into Nablus; five Palestinians killed in scattered violence; 50 arrested

Friday, August 2nd 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NABLUS, West Bank (AP) _ Israeli troops traded gunfire with Palestinians Friday and arrested 50 suspected terrorists after the army swept into the West Bank City of Nablus backed by 150 armored vehicles in a retaliatory strike for several Palestinian attacks on Israel.

In overnight clashes and army operations in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, five Palestinians were killed and at least six houses were destroyed. Also, Israeli officials approved orders to expel two relatives of suspected Palestinian attackers from the West Bank to Gaza _ measures the Israelis hope will deter potential attackers.

Early Friday, an El Al Israel Airlines plane reached New York, carrying the bodies of two of the five American victims of the Hebrew University bombing, in which seven people died and more than 80 were wounded Wednesday.

Israeli troops entered the narrow alleyways of the Old City of Nablus early Friday, residents said, after about 150 armored personnel carriers moved into the West Bank city. Two Palestinian gunmen were killed, witnesses said.

May Fataier, 16, who was shot in the leg, said the armored vehicles began arriving at about 2 a.m., and there was ``shooting in all directions.''

``I heard someone screaming and went out of the house and a soldier opened fire at me and I was injured,'' she said from a hospital.

The Israeli military surrounded the Old City, conducting searches and arresting about 50 men. The suspects were handcuffed and blindfolded and placed in empty stores, before being taken away on army buses.

The military said it found and blew up two explosives laboratories.

``There's been a train of Palestinian terrorism that's been hitting Israel over the past week to 10 days, and what we've been able to discern is that its hub is in Nablus,'' said Israeli government spokesman Dore Gold. Nablus had replaced nearby Jenin ``as the main factory of suicide bombings against Israel.''

Meanwhile, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat called the Israeli operation ``a new massacre.''

``I need an answer from the whole United Nations: is this acceptable?'' he said.

Arafat's remarks came a day after the U.N. issued a lengthy report saying there was no evidence to support Palestinian claims of an Israeli massacre in Jenin during fighting in April. The report criticized Palestinians for stockpiling weapons in the town, and chastised Israel for delaying medical and humanitarian aid.

In response to the Nablus incursion, Arafat said: ``I am asking for quick international intervention from the United Nations. If they are not able to send forces, then send observers.''

Outside Nablus, in the nearby village of Salem, Israeli soldiers surrounded the house of a Hamas activist, Amjad Jubur, 28, and shot him dead, both sides said. However, the military said he was shot while trying to escape. A neighbor said he was shot after being handcuffed.

In Hebron, Israeli forces blew up a three-story house belonging to the family of a Palestinian who carried out an attack in Jerusalem last November, the military said. In Tulkarem, soldiers destroyed the house of a Hamas gunmen who opened fire in the Israeli coastal city of Netanya in March of last year, killing three.

In the Gaza Strip, one Palestinian was killed and two wounded in exchanges of fire after midnight Friday, when Israeli troops destroyed three structures along the Gaza border with Egypt, residents said. The military said soldiers destroyed an abandoned building used by Palestinians to fire anti-tank missiles.

Also in Gaza, Israel soldiers fatally shot an elderly Palestinian woman outside her home at an encampment near the Kissufim crossing between the Gaza Strip and Israel, her son said. The army said it was checking the report.

The commander of Israeli forces in the West Bank region, Maj. Gen. Yitzhak Eitan, signed orders to expel to the Gaza Strip two relatives of Palestinian attackers.

``It should be emphasized that the two are not being expelled outside the country's borders, but that their residence is being limited to the Gaza Strip,'' the military said in a statement.

Israel says the men were implicated in two deadly attacks recently carried out by relatives. The Palestinians appealed the order to a military court that was sitting Friday, and could also appeal to Israel's Supreme Court.

Last month Israeli forces arrested 19 relatives of suicide bombers, apparently intending to expel them to Gaza, but Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein ruled that only those involved in the attacks could be punished.

In New York, U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said that Secretary-General Kofi Annan ``continues to be deeply concerned'' by reports that Israel planned to expel Palestinians from the West Bank to Gaza.

Israeli troops control seven of the eight main Palestinian centers in the West Bank, moving in after back-to-back suicide bomb attacks in Jerusalem June 18-19. The university bombing and a suicide attack the day before were the first bombings in Jerusalem since the incursions.

At a tearful ceremony at Israel's Ben Gurion International Airport, the bodies of two of the American victims were put aboard an El Al Israel Airlines plane that arrived in New York early Friday.

Simple wooden caskets held the remains of Benjamin Blutstein, 25, of Susquehanna Township, Pa., and Janis Ruth Coulter, 36, who worked in New York.

At the ceremony, U.S. Ambassador Daniel Kurtzer said, ``Their lives are testimony to the values shared by the U.S. and Israel, lives of religious commitment and tolerance. Terrorists cannot live by these values, so they murder beautiful young people.''

The violent Islamic Hamas took responsibility for the bombing, saying it was retaliation for last week's Israeli air strike in Gaza City that killed a top Hamas commander and 14 other people, including nine children.

Hamas spokesman Abdel Aziz Rantisi said Thursday that America should ``advise its citizens not to go to areas of war.''

But on Friday, he expressed regret for the deaths of the Americans. ``They are American citizens who just came here to visit,'' he told The Associated Press. ``Our battle is against the occupation.'' However, he said he was referring only to ``pure'' American citizens, ``not those who have dual (U.S.-Israeli) citizenship.''

One of the victims was a dual citizen, Dina Carter, 37, who was buried in Jerusalem Friday.

The body of Marla Bennett, 24, from San Diego, Calif., is to be flown home on Saturday. Another victim, David Gritz, 24, was a dual French-U.S. citizen.