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At Least Five Killed in Attack on Israeli Settlement

Two Palestinian gunmen entered a home in the Itamar settlement near Nablus late Thursday and killed a mother and three children. An Israeli soldier and one of the alleged Palestinian gunmen were killed when Israeli soldiers stormed the house, Israel Radio reported. The other gunman escaped. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine claimed responsibility for the attack.

Earlier, Israeli troops reentered several Palestinian-controlled areas within the West Bank, including Nablus, where they set up command posts, imposed curfews and conduct searches for suspected Palestinian militants.

Israeli tanks also rolled into the towns of Jenin, Qalqilya, Bethlehem, and Betounia, a suburb outside Ramallah, in response to the two Palestinian suicide attacks Tuesday and Wednesday that killed at least 25 Israelis and wounded at least 70.

The al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a Palestinian militant group linked to Arafat’s Fatah movement, claimed responsibility for Wednesday’s bombing near a crowded bus stop in Jerusalem. The militant group Hamas claimed responsibility for Tuesday’s bombing on a bus in southern Jerusalem.

Israeli troops on Thursday rounded up hundreds of Palestinian men and boys in Jenin, the site of massive fighting in recent months and an alleged breeding ground for terrorists. Soldiers set up command posts, enforced curfews and conducted searches, residents reported.

Although officials gave no timeframe for the renewed incursion, Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, head of the moderate Labor Party, said he “strongly opposes long-term reoccupation of Palestinian areas.”

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, however, has said Israeli forces would reoccupy Palestinian territory until the terror attacks stop.

Palestinian President Yasser Arafat issued a statement condemning the suicide bombings early Thursday, saying attacks against Israeli civilians must “be completely halted,” or else there would be “full Israeli occupation of our lands.”

The Palestinian leader did not say what actions his security forces would take to rein in potential terrorist assailants.

Leaders for the militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad rejected Arafat?s appeal, saying the bombings were legitimate acts of self-defense.

At least 1,403 Palestinians and 544 Israelis have been killed since the latest violence began in September 2000.

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