38 killed as Israelis take over Ramallah

Published March 13, 2002

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) - Israeli tanks and troops thrust into Palestinian refugee camps and took command of the streets in this key West Bank city yesterday, killing 31 Palestinians in one of Israel's largest military operations ever in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Seven Israelis were killed, including six in an ambush just inside the border with Lebanon. The attackers disguised as Israeli soldiers were reportedly Palestinians who slipped across Israel's previously quiet northern frontier - raising the prospect of a new front in the current Mideast conflict.

Israel began stepping up its military operations against Palestinian militants two weeks ago after a series of deadly attacks on Israeli civilians. Since then, large numbers of tanks and troops have charged into six Palestinian towns and refugee camps.

Israeli security sources said yesterday that most combat soldiers in Israel's standing army and some reserve troops were deployed in the West Bank and Gaza Strip - the most expansive operation since Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon. Israel's Channel 1 television said 20,000 Israeli troops were involved.

"This is a dangerous escalation from the Israeli government that will lead the whole region into more violence," said Nabil Aburdeneh, spokesman for Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.