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Israel Retaliates by Sending Tanks, Gunships Into Hebron

By Doug Struck

and John Lancaster

Israel sent dozens of tanks, troops, helicopter gunships and armored personnel carriers into this West Bank city before dawn Monday in another thrust against Palestinian militants, killing at least nine people and arresting dozens. Israel said the raid was in retaliation for the Saturday shooting at a nearby Jewish settlement in which four Israelis were killed.

The raid underscored Israel’s determination to continue with a military offensive in the West Bank over the objections of President Bush. The assault gave Hebron the feel of a ghost town as Palestinian residents hid behind locked doors, with the torn streets still and empty but for clanking tanks that swiveled their turrets toward any sign of movement.

Israeli Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer said the incursion would be short. “We did not go there to stay,” he said. “We went there to damage the terror infrastructure and to leave.” Unlike Israeli raids into other West Bank towns, Monday’s assault did not inflict heavy damage on Hebron, and Palestinian police did not fight the Israelis, as they had done elsewhere.

In Ramallah, Israeli tanks continued to surround the compound of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat as preparations were made to end the month-long siege of his headquarters.

In Bethlehem, an Israeli sniper killed an armed Palestinian inside the Church of the Nativity compound, the army said. Negotiations over the standoff continued. Israeli forces have surrounded the church for nearly a month, saying they want to capture armed Palestinians who took refuge there with about 30 clergy members and other Palestinians.

Israeli officials said the Hebron raid was retaliation for the shooting Saturday about five miles away at the settlement of Adora, in which at least two gunmen snipped a fence to enter the guarded enclave and ran shooting from house to house, killing a 5-year-old girl, a mother in her bed and two men.

“If it hadn’t been for Adora, we wouldn’t have done anything in Hebron,” said the deputy commander of the Israeli operation, Col. Moshe Hager Lau. Hebron had been relatively quiet, and was the only major city excluded from Israel’s military charge into the West Bank on March 29 following a spate of suicide bombings.

Lau said five Palestinians were killed in a helicopter gunship attack on a car and five others were killed separately elsewhere. Palestinian sources said a total of nine were killed, among them Tarek al-Dufashi, a member of the Islamic Resistance Movement, or Hamas, who was involved in the Adora attack. Officials at the Hebron hospital said a doctor, Ibrahim Salaymeh, was badly wounded by shrapnel while riding in an ambulance.