JERUSALEM — Despite a U.S. demand for immediate withdrawal and an end to the killing of civilians, Israeli forces dug deeper into Palestinian territory Monday and waged fresh battles in Bethlehem as violence spilled across the West Bank and into Lebanon.
Israel and Lebanese guerrillas fought artillery duels along Israel's northern border with Lebanon. In Jerusalem, a Palestinian opened fire in a crowded industrial center, wounding four Israelis before he was shot dead. Thousands of right-wingers rallied in the city to demand that their government expel Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat and topple his regime.
At least two more Palestinians were killed Monday: a bomb-maker wanted by Israeli officials for his suspected role in several suicide bombings and a 65-year-old man who died in fighting around his refugee camp near the West Bank city of Tulkarm.
The violence threatens to undermine U.S. efforts to muster Arab support for the war on terrorism. Israel's broadest military campaign against the Palestinians in many years also is placing severe strains on both Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government and the Palestinian Authority.
Israel launched the unprecedented operations last week after the assassination of a Cabinet minister by a radical Palestinian faction.
Reflecting Washington's concern that the escalation here will hurt U.S. interests elsewhere, the State Department issued an unusually strong statement demanding that Israel withdraw its forces from Palestinian-ruled areas "immediately" and desist from future incursions.
In addition, department spokesman Philip T. Reeker called on the Israeli army to exercise "greater discipline and restraint" and said the killing of "numerous innocent civilians" is "unacceptable."
One of Israeli television's leading political reporters said Monday night that Sharon was taken aback by the severity of the rebuke.
Reeker also called on Arafat to halt "violence and terror and bring to justice the terrorists whose actions are betraying Palestinian interests."
Israel also is demanding the extradition of the killers of Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi and says its invasion of the West Bank is meant to force Arafat to comply as well as prevent new terrorist attacks.
But Palestinian militants rebelled Monday at Arafat's orders to hold fire and at his decision to arrest several members of the radical Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. He has outlawed an armed wing of the faction, which took responsibility for last week's assassination.
"The Palestinian Authority is trying to destroy us, but it is the Palestinian Authority that will be destroyed," Khader abu Abbara, a PFLP leader in the hard-hit town of Bethlehem, vowed in a broadcast on Radio Bethlehem 2000.
Abu Abbara's threat reflects the political risks and potential schisms within Palestinian factions if Arafat presses ahead with a crackdown on people Israelis see as terrorists but many Palestinians see as freedom fighters. Palestinian gunmen in Bethlehem renewed fire Monday night on the nearby Jewish neighborhood of Gilo and threatened to launch mortars if the Israeli army does not withdraw.
Sharon, meanwhile, had to fend off a possible mutiny from the center-left Labor Party, his principal partner in the governing coalition. After a heated debate, the party's parliamentary leadership laid out the terms under which it would bolt from the coalition.
If Israel does not withdraw from the newly reoccupied parts of the West Bank, or if it becomes clear that the goal of the military operation is to crush the Palestinian Authority, the Labor Party will quit, a party official said.
Shimon Peres, foreign minister and head of the party, said in Washington that Labor should remain in the government. But Yossi Beilin, Peres' onetime protege and an architect of the landmark 1993 Oslo peace accords, said Labor was making a historic mistake.
"Ariel Sharon is a blind horse who keeps falling into the very same pit of the Lebanon war," Beilin told Israeli radio.
For two days, Israeli media and political discourse have been full of the Lebanon analogy. It was Sharon who led Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon, promising that it would be a short and limited mission to push back Palestinian guerrillas. Israeli troops remained in Lebanon until last year.
Sharon, however, could take succor from the huge rally Monday night in Jerusalem. Thousands of Jewish settlers and right-wing activists crowded into the streets leading to downtown Zion Square to memorialize Zeevi and demonize Arafat. Posters pairing Arafat and Osama bin Laden declared them "The Twins"--a reference to the World Trade Center's twin towers.
The rally was planned before Zeevi's slaying as a demonstration against Sharon, but the prime minister instead was lauded by many thanks to the new offensive in the West Bank. Sharon has finally started "in the right direction," they said, and must finish the job by expelling Arafat and destroying the Palestinian Authority.