Israel's Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, told U.S. President Bush late Saturday that he would expedite the nine-day West Bank offensive. During a phone conversation, Bush demanded that Israel withdraw its forces from the Palestinian Authority "without delay."
In a brief statement, Sharon's office said he told Bush that Israel "is conscious of the American desire to see the operation end quickly." However, it did not say when Israel would withdraw its troops.
Meanwhile, Palestinian gunmen traded round-the-clock fire with Israeli troops for a third straight day in Nablus and Jenin. Israeli soldiers were unable to take full control of the two cities as they faced the toughest resistance yet in their West Bank raid.
Dozens of Palestinians and five Israeli soldiers were reported killed during the weekend in fierce fighting in these two areas.
There was no way to verify reports about the soaring Palestinian death toll, which had reached more than 50, including five children, on Saturday alone. Combat areas are blocked off by Israel.
In Jenin, Israeli troops on the edge of the city's refugee camp have been battling gunmen round the clock. The Israeli forces have entered some city neighborhoods, but are facing resistance in the eastern part of the city, residents said.
In Nablus, the Israeli forces have been sending in helicopters that fire machine guns or rockets in an attempt to dislodge the gunmen. The Israelis have taken over many parts of Nablus, but have only edged into the Old City, where they have encountered heavy shooting.
The Israelis have surrounded the Balata refugee camp on the outskirts of Nablus and waged fierce firefights, but have not gone into the camp, Palestinian witnesses told AP.
Helicopters dropped off Israeli soldiers outside more Palestinian villages early Sunday morning, witnesses said.
Tanks and hundreds of troops blocked roads and surrounded the villages - including Beit Rima and Kobar - outside the besieged commercial capital of Ramallah, witnesses said.
Two Israeli soldiers sustained minor shrapnel wounds in clashes with Palestinians in Ramallah overnight, Israel Radio said. (Albawaba.com)
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