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Israel Raids West Bank Camps, Twelve Dead in Heavy Fighting

By Mary Curtius

Dozens of Israeli army tanks smashed into the Jabalya refugee camp in the Gaza Strip late Monday, and Palestinians reported at least 12 dead and more than 50 injured in heavy fighting there as Israel intensified its hunt for militants across the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Israel television reported about 50 tanks entered the sprawling camp, home to about 100,000 refugees and a bastion of militancy, shortly before midnight. Gun battles erupted immediately. Within an hour, Gazan hospital officials reported receiving a dozen dead.

The army refused comment on the reports.

Earlier Monday, hundreds of Palestinian men and boys -- stripped to their undershirts, their hands on the heads -- waited in line for hours outside a stonecutting factory here at the Dheisheh refugee camp near Bethlehem for Israeli troops to handcuff, blindfold and interrogate them.

The army said it rounded up about 600 boys and men, ages 13 to 45, at Dheisheh and about 500 in the West Bank town of Kalkilya. An army spokeswoman said she did not know if any wanted militants had been found in the group.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon also confirmed Monday that Israel has partially lifted travel restrictions on Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat. The government has used tanks to confine Arafat to the West Bank city of Ramallah since December.

Sharon told members of parliament from his right-wing Likud Party that despite his decision to ease restrictions on Arafat and to drop a demand for seven days of quiet before Israel will start cease-fire talks, the military’s widespread operations in Palestinian-controlled territories would continue.

More than 200 Israelis and Palestinians have died in violence since the beginning of March. The surging violence has cast doubt on the chances for success of a new Bush administration effort to secure a cease-fire. President Bush’s envoy, Anthony C. Zinni, is due in Jerusalem on Thursday.

Palestinians said Israel’s actions on the ground made its decision to partially free Arafat insignificant. Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed-Rabbo called on Israel “to end the closure that all the Palestinian people have been living under for more than 18 months.”

If Arafat does tour Palestinian-controlled areas, he will find many of his police stations and government buildings, as well as his house and offices on Gaza’s seashore, reduced to rubble by Israeli air raids.