Israel warns Syria, Lebanon over hezbollah attacks


Heavy fighting between Israeli forces and Palestinian gunmen marked the escalation of the five-day Israeli military offensive.

Israel's Foreign Minister Shimon Peres issued a stern warning to Syria and Lebanon after hezbollah forces fired mortars and anti-tank missiles on an Israeli army base at Har Dov, one of the most northern points in Israel close to the border.

Mr Peres called on the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to urgently press Syria and Lebanon for an end to increasing attacks on Israel's northern border.

"I would like to ask for an immediate and personal intervention," Mr Peres said in the letter, warning of the "alarming consequences it could have for the security of the region."

Following a day of gun battles at least nine Palestinians have been killed following fierce gun battles between Israeli forces and Palestinian gunmen today as Israeli Prime Minister Mr Ariel Sharon again raised the possibility of expelling Mr Yasser Arafat.

Israeli tanks have now occupied the West Bank town of Jenin.

Helicopter gunships have been shelling the Palestinian security headquarters in Ramallah.

In a deal brokered by US and European officials, about 400 Palestinians have surrendered to Israeli troops after being trapped in the Ramallah compound of West Bank security chief Jibril Rajoub for five days.

Palestinian negotiator Mr Saeb Erekat immediately dismissed any possibility of Mr Arafat leaving, saying Mr Arafat, who has sworn to "die a martyr" rather than bow to Israel, would never accept exile from his homeland.

Around 50 tanks were reportedly deploying near the southern entrance to Nablus, close to the Balata refugee camp where the Israeli army fought bloody battles with Palestinian gunmen in an invasion last month.

Forces also surrounded Bethlehem's Deheisheh and Aida refugee camps. Palestinians responsible for some suicide bombings have come from Deheisheh, including one who blew himself up in his car at a Jerusalem police checkpoint yesterday, killing a policeman.

Israeli Foreign Minister Mr Shimon Peres said: "We haven't gone into the territories to capture territories but to capture terrorists. We have no intention of staying there a protracted time - three to four weeks".

A Palestinian official said Israeli soldiers had shot dead a 42-year-old man near a checkpoint outside Bala'a, a village north of Tulkarm.

Under pressure from Arab and European leaders to take the lead in defusing the conflict, President George W. Bush defended his approach and urged Mr Arafat to condemn suicide bombings.

Domestic criticism of Mr Bush's Middle East policy mounted today with increasingly strident, high-profile calls for the administration to do more to end violence in the region.

Calling Washington's efforts thus far "incoherent" and "inconsistent," former US officials, current lawmakers and the editorial pages of both right - and left -leaning newspapers said Mr Bush must act now to staunch the recent explosion in violence.

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