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Battles rage across West Bank

Israeli soldiers
Israeli soldiers conduct a house-to-house search in the besieged West Bank city of Ramallah on Thursday.  

(CNN) -- Jericho is the last major West Bank town still under Palestinian control after Israeli tanks rolled into Hebron on Thursday as the military continues its crackdown on what it calls the terrorist infrastructure.

Israel's operation has now spread to the towns of Nablus, Jenin, Tulkarem, Qalqilya, Ramallah, and Bethlehem -- as well as a number of Palestinian-controlled villages. (Map of Israeli military movements)

The Israel Defense Forces incursions have met with resistance and the standoff at Christianity's holiest shrines in Bethlehem continues for a third day, with Palestinians inside the Church of the Nativity which is surrounded by Israeli tanks and troops.

The 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.

"The goal of the operation that we are conducting now is to uproot the terrorist activity within the areas that are under control of the Palestinian Authority," Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Thursday. He said peace will be discussed only when there is a "full cessation" of "terror, hostilities and incitement."

The U.N. Security Council on Thursday unanimously passed a resolution urging Israel to withdraw from the West Bank "without delay." And, decrying the "horror of bombings and burials and the stark picture of tanks in the street," President Bush announced Thursday he is sending Secretary of State Colin Powell to the Mideast to seek a cease-fire between the Israelis and the Palestinians. (Full story)

A Palestinian lawmaker said she hoped Powell would held bring the Israeli military operation to a quick end.

"There are people starving in the siege, there are children traumatized and terrified. There are men women and children dying. This is a situation that has reached the proportions of a tremendous humanitarian crisis. It is a tragedy and every minute that passes we lose lives and more people are brutalized and traumatized," said Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi.


CNN's Ben Wedeman says reports conflict about any attacks on the Church of the Nativity, but Israeli forces are not letting him close enough to find out what happened. (April 4)

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CNN's Michael Holmes talks to a family in Ramallah and finds bravery, hope and fear as parents and children wait out the Israeli occupation confined to their home. (April 4)

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 Latest developments
 • Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Monday accused Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat of betraying promises to work toward peace and said Israel's military mission in West Bank will continue until complete

 • U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said he would meet with Arafat on his Mideast trip "if circumstances permit."

 • An Israeli army spokesman said Sunday he expected the Israeli operations in Nablus and Jenin to end "today or tomorrow."

 • U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said President Bush wants Israel to begin its withdrawal "now."

 •  Israel launched air attacks against suspected Hezbollah hideouts in southern Lebanon on Sunday after more attacks on Israeli positions near the Israeli-Lebanon border.

 •  A 27th victim of the Passover suicide bombing in the Israeli coastal town of Netanya has died, Sharon said.

Mideast violence
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  •  Palestinian politics
  •  IDF: Arms workshops destroyed in Rafah
  •  Gallery: Palestinian fatalities
  •  Victims of terror
  • Orchestrating a common ground

The Israeli army Thursday released two documents taken from the Ramallah compound of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat that Israel said link him to the assassinated head of the Tanzim militia in Tulkarem and other top Palestinian militants. (Full story)

"What we found in the documents are Arafat's signature, paying out funds to terrorists," said IDF Col. Miri Eisen.

A Palestinian legal adviser questioned the papers' authenticity and urged they be corroborated by an independent source.

Arafat remains trapped in his office for an eighth day inside the battered compound.

Elsewhere in Ramallah, Israeli troops are making house-to-house arrests. There is sporadic gunfire. More than 1,000 people have been arrested, but most have been released. Israel has apprehended fewer than 30 wanted people, security sources said.


CNN Correspondent Ben Wedeman reported a lot of destruction of property in Bethlehem, where there is a round-the-clock curfew. Gunfire can be heard in what he described as a "ghost town." On rare occasions, ambulances have been allowed in the area. (Full story)

A bell-ringer inside the compound of the Church of the Nativity was killed by a sniper Thursday.

A witness inside the church said the Israeli military Thursday blew the south door off the church and "destroyed part of the building." An Israeli official called the claim "baseless lies" and said Israel is taking "great care" not to harm religious sites.

Israeli forces are trying to negotiate the release of at least 40 priests being held hostage inside the church, according to Lt. Col. Olivier Rafowicz, an IDF spokesman. Anton Salman, head of the Antonius Society of Bethlehem, denied anyone is being held hostage, saying the 240 people inside the church are only looking for protection.

Rafowicz said Palestinian terrorists have guns in the church, and he said "several terrorists" who are armed have left the church. "We are now trying to arrest them outside the church," Rafowicz said.

Palestinian security sources said Israeli troops stormed a Syrian church and started heavy firing. A lot of people are hiding inside the church.


Israeli tanks entered the Palestinian part of Hebron, destroying a house in the Abu Sneneh neighborhood that belonged to Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades member Hazim Kafisheh with a tank shell, Palestinian security sources said. Israeli forces called on his family in the house to leave before the structure was destroyed, but it is not clear whether anyone was home during the attack.

It could not be immediately determined if there are casualties in the town. Israeli military sources said an Israeli border policeman was killed Thursday in Hebron. No further details were available.


Hospital sources said three Palestinians are dead, including one civilian and members of Hamas and the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. At least 10 others are wounded and more casualties are expected. Only one body has reached the hospital.

Israeli sources said one soldier was killed and another wounded in a gun battle with Palestinians.

Palestinian security sources said battles have focused on refugee camps and the old city. Israeli helicopters fly overhead and tanks are rumbling through the streets. Four homes have been destroyed and others have been damaged in the city and the refugee camps.


In the largest city in the West Bank, troops have control of most areas, but have not been able to enter three refugee camps -- Balata, Askar, Ein -- or the old city area in Nablus, security sources said.

There are gun battles throughout the city, and 150 people have been arrested. Five Palestinians were killed in the violence Friday, according to the Palestine Red Crescent. Security sources said Israelis have occupied apartment buildings and ousted residents to set up sniper locations.

The IDF said its forces were the targets of "a large number of explosive devices" after troops entered the city Wednesday night. It said "a series of fire fights" were taking place between soldiers and "terrorist elements."

Israel-Lebanon border

Israeli jets Thursday struck back at southern Lebanon after Hezbollah sent two Katyusha rockets into northern Israel Wednesday. Sources said one missile hit an area under Israeli military control in the occupied Golan Heights and the second hit an area near an Israeli military listening post on Mount Hermon, also in the Golan Heights.

Six "renegade" Palestinians suspected of a Thursday rocket attack on northern Israel were taken into custody Friday by Lebanese security forces. The Palestinians are members of a splinter group of Palestinian leader Arafat's Fatah movement, Lebanese government sources said. (Full story)

In southern Lebanon, three unarmed U.N. military observers were wounded Thursday morning when Hezbollah members dragged them from their vehicle and beat them with rifle butts, a U.N. spokesman said. The area has been the site of clashes in recent days between Hezbollah guerrillas and Israeli troops. (Full story)

Tel Aviv

Nine policemen and seven demonstrators were wounded during a demonstration of 300 Arab-Israelis near the U.S. Embassy. When the demonstrators hoisted a Palestinian flag, it caused a commotion among passers-by. Israeli police said they requested the flag be taken down, but the demonstrators refused and started stoning the police. Three people were arrested.

A woman wounded in one of the recent suicide bombings, in Tel Aviv, has died, officials announced Thursday. She was the first Israeli to die from that attack.




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