Israeli troops pulled back from the Palestinian autonomous area in the West Bank city of Hebron except for two strategic hillsides, the Israeli army announced.
Palestinian residents said jeeps had pulled out of the city's north en masse Friday afternoon and soldiers evacuated buildings they had transformed into military posts. The Israeli army confirmed its withdrawal in a statement but warned of a "severe Israeli response" in case of future attacks by Palestinian snipers on the heavily-guarded Jewish settlers' enclave in the city.
It said the redeployment was made under the framework of "a series of actions aimed at improving the lives of Palestinian inhabitants."
Earlier, hundreds of Israeli soldiers backed by scores of heavy military vehicles moved into the West Bank city of Jenin early on Friday as Israel retaliated for a suicide car bombing that killed 14 Israelis earlier this week.
Six Palestinians were reported to be seriously wounded.
Palestinian President Yasser Arafat told reporters the Jenin operation was "a continuation of the crimes committed by troops and (Jewish) settlers against our people and our children."
A senior Israeli commander said the operation, dubbed "Vanguard," was aimed at rooting out some 20 activists. He said it was the largest such operation since August. "This operation is an outgrowth of this week's suicide car bombing," said the commander, according to Reuters.
"Our intelligence indicates that the bombing encouraged the terrorist cell in Jenin, which is now rearming and winning new recruits," a senior Israeli commander told reporters.
Palestinian witnesses in the city said some 150 foot soldiers had surrounded a home and were ramming the door. They reported no exchange of gunfire. The witnesses added that they expected the army to demolish two homes in the area belonging to activists that Israel blames for this week's bombing. The families have already evacuated those homes, they said.
The army also took over dozens of houses, establishing stake-outs to respond to any fire on military vehicles traveling on the street, witnesses said. A senior Israeli commander said the army intended to reimpose the curfew, conduct widespread searches and set up stake-outs for the wanted Palestinians.
The raid into Jenin came just hours after U.S. envoy William Burns met with Palestinian and Israeli officials in. He is due to hold more talks on Friday. Both Israelis and Palestinians voiced reservations about the staged plan.
In Tel Aviv, a meeting between Israel and Palestinian officials, headed by Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and PA minister Saeb Erekat respectively, was held. The two sides discussed a further easing of the sanctions on the Palestinians. The Palestinians put forth several requests and Peres promised that they would be looked on favorably. (Albawaba.com)
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