'Operation Defensive Shield' Expands In PA Areas

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:11 PM EDT

Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - "Operation Defensive Shield" entered its fifth day on Tuesday with Israeli troops and tanks pushing into Bethlehem and Tulkarem and continuing their assault in Kalkilya and Ramallah.

Tanks reportedly entered Bethlehem from two directions and came to within a few hundred yards of the Church of the Nativity, the traditional birthplace of Jesus. Heavy exchanges of gunfire were reported there on Tuesday.

Israeli troops also reportedly raided the nearby Dehaishe Refugee Camp, from which several suicide bombers have been sent to carry out attacks.

An Israeli policeman, Tomer Mordechai was killed on Monday by a suicide bomber whom he stopped at a roadblock. The bomber blew up the car he was driving, and police credit Mordechai with averting a major disaster.

Earlier an Israeli soldier was killed by sniper fire near the entrance to Bethlehem as reservists gathered there before entering the city.

Troops were carrying out searches for wanted militants, weapons and munitions in Tulkarem and Bethlehem, and had taken up "dominant positions" in the cities, the army spokesman said in a statement.

According to the spokesman, the last terrorist to leave from Tulkarem was the one who blew himself up at a Netanya hotel last week on the eve of Passover, killing 22 civilians and wounding 170 more.

Israeli forces on Tuesday also encircled the headquarters of West Bank Preventive Security Service chief Jibril Rabjoub in Bitunya near Ramallah and reportedly began shelling it.

According to a spokesman, the army called upon the occupants of the building to surrender and fired warning shots. When the demands went unheeded the army issued an ultimatum.

Rajoub himself is not in the complex but some 70 wanted terrorists are believed to be hiding out there including some top Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders. Head of PA Chairman Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction, Marwan Barghouti was said to be inside but Rajoub denied it.

"It's only a matter of minutes or hours until it becomes clear that Marwan Barghouti is not inside the complex," Rajoub said in a radio interview in Hebrew.

Palestinian sources were quoted as saying that Israel had demanded that those inside surrender but Rajoub said they would not do so.

"I did not educate my people to surrender to anybody," he said. "That's not our attitude and not our culture. I cannot give any order other than to fight to the last bullet."

In Ramallah, Arafat is still pinned down in his headquarters. Israel has repeatedly insisted that it had no intention of harming the Palestinian leader but said that it will destroy the terrorist infrastructure.

Nevertheless, Justice Minister Meir Sheetrit laid the blame for five out of every six attacks in which Israelis were killed on Arafat himself.

"From 2000 on, the number of terrorist attacks committed by the Tanzim and its leader, Marwan Barghouti, is five times the number of attacks committed by the Hamas and Islamic Jihad," Sheetrit told reporters late Monday.

"Arafat is thus committing five out of every six attacks that kill Israelis. We have paid dearly, with hundreds of lives and thousands of wounded in these attacks," Sheetrit said.

Sheetrit called Arafat a liar and accused him of heading a terror organization not a government. He said that Arafat had received advance notice of terror attacks in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, including that of the Sbarro restaurant in Jerusalem last summer in which 15 people were killed.

"I don't know of any country in the world which would not retaliate after such a bombing, even more aggressively and strongly than we have. The US, following the World Trade Center attacks, went into Afghanistan and hunted down terrorists; there was no question of negotiation or hesitation," he said.

Brig. Gen. Ron Kitrey said Monday evening that Arafat's Ramallah compound was currently encircled and that the army was carrying out house to house searches looking for intelligence information, weapons and wanted terrorists.

"In Ramallah, we have arrested more than 700 suspects, a relatively large number of them on the wanted list," Kitrey said.

In addition, the army has found weapons, ammunition and millions of shekels of counterfeit money and the plates to produce more.

"The fact is that Arafat is responsible for counterfeiting millions of shekels and dollars, as well as possessing printing blocks, means he's trying to either pay his own people exorbitant salaries, or damage our economy," Sheetrit said.

Kitrey charged that there is disinformation coming out of Ramallah. He pointed to a story about a massacre of 30 Palestinians.

"We investigated the matter. It turns out that in the course of a firefight with Israeli forces, four Palestinians were killed, four were wounded and 30 were apprehended. All of the Palestinians were armed," he said.

Doctors in Ramallah have said that they have about 25 bodies in the morgue there and they are overflowing. Israel has not given permission for funerals, which are often seen as an occasion for a political rally.