Even as Israeli tanks began to roll into towns along the edge of the West Bank, another suicide bomber detonated his explosives near a bus stop in Jerusalem. The blast, the second in the city in two days, killed at least seven and wounded dozens in a northern Jerusalem neighborhood.
Some three hours later, Israel responded by launching air strikes against the Palestinian-held Gaza Strip, firing missiles at facilities in Gaza City, the Jabalya refugee camp, and the southern Gaza cities of Khan Younis and Rafah. Four people were wounded in the air strikes, Palestinian medical sources said.
The Israeli army confirmed the missile attacks, saying they targeted metal foundries used to manufacture munitions for Palestinian militias. Israeli forces also said they also destroyed a tunnel used to smuggle arms from Egypt to the southern Gaza city of Rafah, the Israeli army said.
Earlier in the day, Israeli forces rolled into four Palestinian towns in the West Bank shortly after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his security cabinet declared that Israel would reoccupy Palestinian-held territory for “as long as terror continues.”
Israeli troops entered the West Bank town of Jenin and its nearby refugee camp, considered a stronghold for Palestinian militias and the scene of heavy fighting in an incursion two months ago.
Witnesses told the Associated Press the troops set up mobile homes and water tanks, possibly for an extended stay. Residents also told the AP that soldiers rounded up hundreds of Palestinian men, ages 15-45, and bussed them to a nearby military base.
Operations were not limited to Jenin though. Tanks and troops were also seen in the towns of Nablus and Qalqilya. Israeli forces apprehended six Palestinian men from the southern city of Hebron and two nearby towns in the West Bank.
Sharon and his security cabinet announced the new policy in a prepared statement following their late night meeting.
“Israel will respond to acts of terror by capturing PA (Palestinian Authority) territory,” the statement read. “These areas will be held by Israel as long as terror continues. Additional acts of terror will lead to the taking of additional areas. As a result of yesterday’s murderous act of terror in Jerusalem, Israel will shortly take PA territory as outlined above.”
Palestinian officials warned that any Israeli incursion into Palestinian territory would only provoke more violence.
“Any resistance to this occupation now will be legitimate and accepted by all Palestinians against the [Israeli] occupiers,” Ahmed Abdel Rahman, an aide to Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat, told Reuters.
The Bush administration, which is expected to outline a new peace initiative for the region in the next few days, did not denounce Sharon’s new policy to reoccupy Palestinian-held territory in retaliation for any new attacks.
“The president believes that Israel is in the middle of recovering from a very serious attack and that Israel has a right to defend itself,” White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.
When asked if the latest violence would deter the president’s peace plan, Fleischer said Mr. Bush planned to announce the initiative “at the right time when it will do the most good to create an environment for peace in the region.”