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Pro-Arab protests grow, Israel expands offensive

Israeli soldiers
Israeli soldiers patrol the streets of Ramallah during a temporary lifting of the curfew in the West Bank city on Friday.  

(CNN) -- Israel expanded its offensive into Palestinian towns Friday as pro-Arab protests grew and more voices called for an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank.

Some of the heaviest fighting was in Nablus, the largest city in the West Bank. Palestinian sources said they had confirmed 14 Palestinians -- mostly civilians -- were killed, mainly in the Balata and Asker refugee camps. Thirty people were reported injured, but ambulances were unable to get into the area.

Israeli troops controlled most of the city, and the Israel Defense Forces arrested a large number of people, witnesses said. Palestinians were using firearms and grenades, and the Israelis were using helicopters, machine guns and tanks. (Full story)

In Jenin, the IDF said an officer and two soldiers were killed at the refugee camp.

Israel has said the campaign is aimed at destroying the Palestinian terrorist infrastructure. The campaign began after a wave of suicide bombings by Palestinians, beginning with the bombing of a crowded restaurant at the beginning of Passover that killed 26 Israelis.

 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 IDF said it is holding 1,200 Palestinian suspects in connection with terrorism, and it is reopening Ktziot internment camp in southern Israel's Negev desert for those detained.

Cross-border fighting also continued Friday between Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon and Israeli forces.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell will leave Sunday for the Middle East on a mission to try to get Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table, Powell announced Friday.

Echoing comments made by President Bush on Thursday, Powell called on Israel to withdraw its forces from Palestinian cities and said he hopes "the tragic situation we are seeing in the region on our television sets every day now will soon be brought to an end." (More on diplomatic efforts)

The man who chaired the international group that authored the Mitchell peace plan said Israel's military could make Powell's mission more difficult

"The risk, of course, is that longer and deeper the incursion goes, the less likely that Secretary Powell's visit will be successful," said former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell.

Terje Larsen, the U.N. special envoy to the Middle East, also warned that getting the Palestinians to end terror attacks is not the only goal of the international community.

"What I do think is at the core of the problem, which we in a quartet -- that is the European Union, the U.S., Russia, the U.N. -- will have to say in the next couple of weeks, is that no cease-fire can take hold unless there are political underpinnings," Larsen said.

After a week of being isolated in his Ramallah compound by Israeli troops, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat met there Friday with U.S. Middle East envoy Anthony Zinni, the first international representative to see Arafat since the Israeli military campaign began.

Zinni persuaded Arafat to form a committee of senior aides to work with him on a way out of the current crisis -- but Palestinians said Israel barred the three committee members from meeting with Zinni late Friday.

"As we have been informed officially by the American delegation here, Mr. Sharon rejected totally for such a meeting to take place," said Muhammad Rashid, a top Arafat aide.

Israel had no immediate comment on the matter.

Meanwhile, between 1,800 and 2,000 pro-Arab protesters rallied in New York's Times Square chanting anti-Israeli slogans.

In Manama, Bahrain, police clashed Friday with thousands of demonstrators who had gathered outside the U.S. Embassy to protest U.S. and Israeli actions in the Mideast.(Full story)

In Istanbul, Turkey, nearly 4,000 demonstrators gathered outside a mosque Friday to show their support for Palestinians.

Protests were also reported in Egypt, Lebanon, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, and Jordan.




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