Israeli troops enter two Palestinian cities


Israeli forces entered two Palestinian cities in the northern West Bank in the latest incursions to search for Palestinian militants suspected of plotting attacks on Israelis, the army and Palestinian witnesses said Saturday.

Palestinian officials, meanwhile, said they haven’t heard officially from Washington about reports that U.S. President George W. Bush is considering giving the go-ahead to a provisional Palestinian state. Bush was expected to outline his approach to resolving the Mideast conflict sometime in the coming week.

“All we know is that talking about an independent Palestinian state with some land still under occupation does not mean that this is a permanent state,” said Nabil Abu Rdeneh, a senior aide to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Tanks and armored personnel carriers backed by two helicopters entered Jenin early Saturday morning, and, late Friday night, the army made a brief incursion into Tulkarem.

In Jenin, the helicopters fired warning shots, but nobody was hurt, Palestinian security officials said.

The army imposed a curfew on the towns and patrolled the streets after receiving reports of possible attacks, according to the army spokesman’s office. The troops withdrew from both towns Saturday morning without making arrests.

U.S. officials have indicated Bush is considering proposing an interim, or provisional, state for Palestinians on the land that Palestinians now hold — roughly 40 percent of the West Bank and two-thirds of Gaza.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell earlier this week said provisional statehood would provide the Palestinians with hope for the future and might help end the violence. But Bush’s aides called Powell’s statements premature at the time.

According to a U.S. newspaper report, Palestinian officials who were briefed by American officials said a provisional Palestinian state proposed by Bush would be able to conduct foreign relations, sign treaties and join the United Nations. The plan would leave borders and the issue of a Palestinian capital unresolved, the Boston Globe reported Saturday.

Abu Rdeneh refused to speculate on what sort of borders or functions might be included in any provisional state, but said a timetable for true statehood is “an important Palestinian condition” for accepting any provisional plan.

Since the end of the operation, which was code-named “Defensive Shield,” the army has made brief incursions into Palestinian cities whenever it suspected that new attacks were being planned.

Scores of Israelis have been killed in shooting attacks or suicide bombings by Palestinians who set out from Jenin, long a stronghold of Palestinian militants. On June 5 a militant from Jenin entered Israel, drove a car packed with explosives alongside a bus and blew himself up, killing 17 passengers.

During the recent massive Israeli operation against militants in the West Bank cities, the heaviest fighting and the worst damage was in the Jenin refugee camp.

Tulkarem, which is on the pre-1967 war border with Israel, has served as a base for suicide bombers setting out for Netanya and other cities in central Israel.

Israel was to begin a US$80 million fence project Sunday along part of the border in an attempt to keep out the Palestinian gunmen and bombers.