Two Israeli soldiers were killed, one was seriously injured and another two sustained light injuries Monday morning during intense fighting in the Jenin refugee camp, in which Israeli troops were operating with the assistance of helicopter gunships against the Palestinian stiff resistance.
Before daybreak Monday, Israeli helicopters began firing missiles at the camp after Palestinian activists ignored calls to surrender. Jamal Abdel Salam, a camp resident and activist in Hamas, said army bulldozers flattened homes, and that dozen of houses had already been destroyed.
Palestinians reported that Israeli helicopters had fired at least 25 missiles at the camp in the early afternoon.
Israeli soldiers moved through the streets of the camp during the morning, calling on local residents through loudhailers to leave their homes and gather in the center of the camp, so that they would not be harmed by the bombing. Israeli officials estimated that more than 100 Palestinians have been killed in the Jenin camp.
Battles also continued in the Nablus’ Old City. At least six armed Palestinians were killed in fighting in Nablus on Monday morning.
Two Israeli soldiers were wounded late Sunday morning in Nablus; one sustained moderate-to-light wounds and the other was lightly injured. Two other Israeli soldiers were wounded late Saturday night in Ramallah. Another six soldiers were injured Sunday in Jenin; two moderately and the rest lightly.
In Bethlehem, the sound of gunfire and small explosions were heard early Monday in Bethlehem outside of the Church of the Nativity, where Palestinian gunmen and clerics have been holed up for seven days, a priest said.
Black smoke also rose from one of the windows of the compound belonging to the church, built over the traditional birthplace of Jesus, but it was not immediately clear what was burning.
Father Ibrahim Faltas, the superior of the Franciscan community in the church, told AP he heard the shooting just outside of the building. He said that Israeli soldiers did not enter the church, and he did not know what started the gunbattle.
Israeli soldiers have been using loudspeakers to demand that the gunmen surrender, but they have refused to come out. The troops have been reluctant to storm the church. Any damage to the sacred site would cause an international uproar.
Mohammed al-Madani, the governor of Bethlehem told Reuters by telephone from inside the church that soldiers in the municipality building 100 meters to the west and gunners in two tanks to the south were shooting at the church. One Palestinian policeman was reported killed. Two Israeli border police officers were wounded in this incident - one seriously, one moderately.
The fire caused a blaze in the offices belonging to a local monastery, which the policeman, Khaled Siyam, was trying to put out, the governor of the West Bank city said.
It was also not immediately clear if some 200 gunmen trapped inside the church with several members of the clergy were firing back. Al Madani said the army was preventing firefighters from attending the blaze.
Meanwhile, Israeli officials said they do not expect a head-on collision with the US over President George W. Bush's call, repeated by Bush's National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice Sunday, for Israel to pull out of the Palestinian cities immediately.
The officials said Israel would begin withdrawing from those Palestinian towns where the Israeli army believes it has largely accomplished its goals, senior Israeli diplomatic officials said. (Albawaba.com)
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