Amid rising casualties, Israel digs in

Today's bombing will likely slow West Bank pullout.

Today was a day of victory for Israeli forces – and a day of defeat.

The victory came as the Israeli army claimed control over the Old City of Nablus and the Jenin refugee camp, two areas of the West Bank where Palestinian fighters had staved off Israel's invasion for more than a week.

The defeat happened in Haifa, a city on Israel's coast, where a suicide bomber blew apart a bus at rush hour, killing eight passengers and himself. The bombing appears likely to delay any significant Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian territories and dampen the US government's ability to demand a pullout.

An Israeli soldier devouring a hot dog at this dusty checkpoint outside Jenin, taking a break from conducting house-to-house searches in the refugee camp, seemed undeterred by the news from Haifa. "If we keep doing it, it will be effective," said Sgt. Alon, who used only his first name, referring to Israel's strategy of taking over Palestinian areas to arrest militants and seize their weapons.

With that he climbed into his armored personnel carrier, revved the engine, and, with a wave, rumbled back into Jenin.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's security cabinet reached a similar conclusion yesterday, officials said, affirming that Israel's takeover of most urban areas in the West Bank would continue, in defiance of US and international demands for a withdrawal.

Secretary of State Colin Powell was expected to arrive here today in an effort to get the two sides to back away from violence, but events are working against him.

US officials have always found it difficult to ask the Israelis for restraint, much less withdrawal, following a terrorist attack of the kind that occurred in Haifa. Mr. Sharon is the first to point out that Israel is fighting a "war against terror," just as the US is in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

On Tuesday morning, Palestinian fighters in the Jenin camp simultaneously ambushed two Israeli patrols, killing 13 soldiers. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have not lost as many troops in a single event since 1983.

While the worst fighting may be over in Jenin and other places, the ambush may slow down Israel's operations, since the IDF may insist on taking greater precautions in order to avoid a repeat.

Ali Jarbawi, a Palestinian political scientist who lives in Jenin, put two and two together on Tuesday evening, as he watched five IDF bulldozers grind past his house on their way toward the camp. "After what happened," he says, referring to the ambush, "[the Israelis] do not want to let their soldiers enter on foot."

If his surmise is correct, the IDF will have to move more slowly in order to allow time for bulldozers to clear paths big enough to admit armored vehicles through the narrow streets and alleys of the camp.

He was not hopeful about the Israeli leader's ability to wrap up his military operations anytime soon. "To be effective, Sharon has to re-occupy the West Bank and set his foot there and search from house to house and sit in Jenin and Ramallah for months," says Jarbawi, who teaches at Bir Zeit University. "If he pulls out in a week or two, the bombings will start again."

Israel has barred foreign journalists from Jenin and other Palestinian areas it now occuppies, so the accounts of Mr. Jarbawi and humanitarian groups are the only sources of information about the humanitarian impact of Israel's activities in the camp. By all accounts, the situation is disastrous.

Jenin residents have been without electricity for more than a week, water supplies have been disrupted, and most residents are running out of food.

Sociologist Najah Jarrar, who lives in the center of Jenin, says his family has had to throw away food they had stored in anticipation of an Israeli seige because they have no way to keep anything cold. "What makes everything worse is the bad smell from the garbage," he says, since there has been no collection in 10 days.

From the Jenin refugee camp emanate stories of death and destruction. Brig. Gen. Ron Kitrey, the IDF's chief spokesman, says Israel has lost 22 soldiers during more than a week of fighting in Jenin; he estimates the Palestinian dead at 100.

"The degree of the violent resistance that we faced there was ... beyond our expectation, probably the most violent and bitter that we faced in all the towns" in the West Bank, he says. He says the IDF has taken every available precaution to safeguard civilians.

Mr. Jarrar says he heard from a friend in the camp that dead bodies are everywhere, including in the rubble of demolished houses. "Some of the people have been killed by [Israeli] soldiers and some by rockets," he says.

Yesterday, at another checkpoint where Israeli forces were restricting entry to Jenin, UN worker Jeremy Chivers was shepherding the entry of a three-truck food convoy. Inside the trucks were food and supplies to build a tent city outside the camp, to provide shelter for Palestinians whom the Israelis have evicted from the camp.

The Israelis are doubtless trying to send civilians to safety as they battle Palestinian fighters in the camp, but the bottom line is that Palestinian refugees are being forced to take flight once again. As it did following wars in 1948 and 1967, the UN is rushing in with food, cooking kits, and tents.

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