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Battered Jenin Sees Worse to Come

Mideast: Palestinian city is caught between Israeli army, paralyzed civil authorities.


JENIN, West Bank — Along the wide boulevard leading to the downtown market here, the trunks of elegant palm and ficus trees are pocked with shrapnel. At one of the city's main intersections, a traffic light leans precariously to one side. Street lights dangle from electric wires.

Motorists swerve to avoid discarded fixtures from a trashed grocery store that were thrown in the middle of the road.

This is the scene in the center of Jenin five days after Israel enacted tough new measures designed to root out terrorism. On Sunday, it was evident that the city had sustained heavy damage since tanks rolled in last week. Dozens of shops had been destroyed. Five people, four of them children, had been killed.

Israel's new strategy was prompted by a string of terrorist attacks that left 31 Israelis dead last week. On Sunday, the Israeli Cabinet approved the building of the first phase of a 220-mile fence along the West Bank. The ministers also discussed the legality of other proposed measures, such as expelling families of suicide bombers from the territory and demolishing their homes. Meanwhile, the Israeli army called up as many as 2,000 reservists to bolster its forces for the new operation against terrorism.

But the most controversial measure is the one announced last week, in which Israel said it will seize Palestinian-controlled territory and stay there until the terrorism stops.

Many Israelis and Palestinians fear the measure could lead to a reoccupation of the West Bank. Reports in the Israeli media say it would cost $600 million to $800 million annually to bring back the Israeli civil administration of the West Bank.

Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer issued a statement Sunday promising that Israel will not attempt to administer the Palestinian territories again, but he vowed that it will conduct "deep and thorough action against the terror infrastructure in the Palestinian cities."

"We don't want to occupy the West Bank. We don't want to stay there. As far as we're concerned, we have one goal--to stop the terror. As soon as the terror ends, we will leave the day after," said Justice Minister Meir Sheetrit.

In the West Bank city of Ramallah, Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat accused Israel of trying to reoccupy the territory, in effect reversing the 1993 Oslo peace accords.

"This is a pure declaration that they are not with the peace that was signed by myself and my partner Yitzhak Rabin," Arafat said, referring to the late Israeli prime minister.

Israel's push into the West Bank comes as both sides await President Bush's ideas for a fresh start to peacemaking. White House officials said Sunday that Bush's address was tentatively planned for today but that he had to make the final decision and that events on the ground could force a delay.

Early today, Israeli tanks surrounded Arafat's compound, with him and his aides inside. Soldiers announced that a curfew was being imposed on Ramallah.

In recent days, the military has also sent armor into Nablus, Bethlehem, Tulkarm and Kalkilya, but it appears that Jenin has been singled out for the harshest treatment because of its reputation as a hotbed of militancy. However, it is difficult to determine the scope of the operation, since much of the West Bank has been inaccessible to reporters because of extensive roadblocks and curfews.

As many as 600,000 Palestinians are reported to be under curfew in the West Bank. In Jenin, Palestinian authorities in the city say, about 1,600 men have been rounded up since Wednesday for questioning by Israeli authorities, with about 700 still in detention.

The new Israeli operation--known as Determined Path--calls for the army to capture and hold pockets of Palestinian territory until terrorist activity is stopped. But in Jenin, Palestinians are angry, frightened and confused about exactly what Israel is planning. They worry about their safety, about food, about who will fix the broken traffic lights and collect the trash.

The city is stuck in limbo. Although Israel appears to be in full military control, with its tanks roaming the center of the town, it has not stepped up to take over any of the civil administration. At the same time, the Palestinian civil authorities have been paralyzed by the Israeli-imposed curfew and appear incapable of administering to municipal needs.

"We are caught between the sky and the ground. We don't know what is coming next, and we can only fear the worst," said Nasser abu Zeid, a city health inspector.

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