Israel’s army carried out door-to-door searches Saturday in the Tulkarem refugee camp, uncovering explosives and guns and arresting four Palestinians, the army said.
The troops were in the camp and the adjacent town of Tulkarem for a second day Saturday, an operation that was launched after a series of attacks inside Israel. Tulkarem is just inside the West Bank and many attacks by Palestinian militants have come from the town.
As the troops moved into the camp Friday, Palestinian militiamen ambushed Israeli soldiers riding atop an armored personnel carrier at the camp’s entrance. One soldier was killed and two were wounded, the army said.
Tank gunners fired shells and machine guns and four Palestinians, including a woman and a 4-year-old child were wounded, Palestinian doctors said.
Israeli troops on Friday also took up positions in the town of Tulkarem and imposed a curfew. Palestinians were confined to their houses and in one instance, more than 30 women, 50 children and eight men were held in one apartment.
The apartment’s owner, Al Maza Badran, told Tulkarem governor Izzedine al Sharif that they had run out of food and water.
Several Palestinian families had been rounded up and held in 15 different apartments for their own protection, military sources said, as the soldiers scoured the neighborhood looking for militants. The army was coordinating with the Red Cross to provide the many families with food and aid. The latest Israeli incursion into the West Bank came after a Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up in a pedestrian mall on Wednesday night, a bomb attack on Israel’s largest fuel depot Thursday and an attempted attack on a nightclub early Friday.
Also Friday, an adviser to Yasser Arafat said the Palestinian leader was prepared to hold general elections this winter if Israeli troops pull back to positions they held before the violence erupted on Sept. 2000.
Israel, however, showed no indication that it would remove its forces from the West Bank and Gaza Strip. On the contrary, Israel TV’s Channel Two reported that the army has been given permission to launch a new military campaign, including raids into Palestinian cities that could last for several days. Raanan Gissin, an adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said he was not aware of the government approval for a new offensive.
Israeli soldiers have been carrying out almost daily arrest raids in Palestinian areas, a follow-up to a recent military offensive aimed at dismantling Palestinian groups that have launched scores of attacks against Israelis.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s office said Friday that 32 Palestinian attacks had been foiled since Israel’s large-scale military operation in the West Bank wound down last week.
Meanwhile, Arafat is under growing pressure from abroad and at home to reform the Palestinian Authority and to unify the multiple Palestinian security services into one agency.
Arafat adviser Nabil Abu Rdeneh also said that the Palestinian leader would appoint a new, smaller Cabinet for the interim period leading up to the elections.
The leader of the militant Islamic Hamas movement, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, told the Arabic satellite channel Al Jazeera that the group might participate in the elections. In 1996, Hamas refused to participate in elections.