Palestinian officials termed the pullbacks a publicity stunt. Israeli tanks and troops kept a tight grip on Ramallah, Bethlehem, Jenin and Nablus, four of the West Bank’s most populous and important cities.
Despite repeated U.S. calls to end the offensive, Israeli tanks and troops entered the West Bank towns of Dahariyah and Bir Zeit and the Ein Hilmeh refugee camp Thursday, carrying out arrest sweeps, seizing arms and occupying buildings. A convoy of 15 Israeli tanks re-entered Tulkarm, in the West Bank, and arrested a Palestinian woman suspected of planning a suicide attack.
In a defiance of growing international criticism, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon reiterated that the Israeli offensive would continue until Palestinian militias were defeated.
“They [the Americans] have problems in the region, that’s true, but I informed them that our activity will continue, and it will continue,” Sharon said.
Fierce fighting in the Jenin refugee camp came to a halt today, when approximately three dozen armed Palestinians surrendered to Israeli soldiers. Late Wednesday, an Israeli official said as many as 200 Palestinians were killed in the Jenin standoff, while other estimates put the death toll much higher.
Also today, Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas attacked Israeli military posts in the disputed Shebaa Farms area near the border of Lebanon, Israel and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. According to witnesses, the attack drew Israeli artillery fire and air raids on the border town of Kfar Shouba. No casualties were reported.
In Hebron, a suspected Palestinian suicide bomber was killed Thursday when the explosives he was wearing blew up. According to Palestinian witnesses, a number of bystanders were injured but no one was killed.