AL KHALIL (West Bank) June 26: Israeli tanks laid siege to Yasser Arafat’s local offices here on Wednesday to smoke out suspects, as the army hunted Palestinian militants and entered more West Bank villages, sources on both sides said.

As soldiers pounded the “moqataa” building housing offices of Arafat’s Palestinian Authority in the southern West Bank, other troops opened fire inside the Jenin camp in the north, killing a six-year-old, medical sources said.

Witnesses to the shelling in Al Khalil said the army kept up a sustained heavy bombardment of the building for several hours in the afternoon, forcing out Maamun Amr, a militant of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, linked to Fatah.

Soldiers using loudspeakers then gave the suspects a 10-minute ultimatum to evacuate but when no one else surrendered they resumed their strikes, witnesses said.

Israeli military officials told public radio they were looking for 15 to 20 militants from the Tanzim, entrenched inside the building.

“This building has become a sort of hotel for wanted Palestinians,” General David Blumenfeld said on public radio, adding that he expected more suspects to surrender soon.

He said the army had arrested 40 “wanted” Palestinians since tanks rolled back into Al Khalil on Tuesday, as part of Operation Determined Path launched last week.

The army has taken control of seven out of the eight key West Bank cities, imposing curfews in retaliation for two suicide bombings and an attack on a Jewish settlement that killed 31 Israelis last week.

Meanwhile, soldiers backed by several jeeps moved into Halhul, south of Al Khalil, imposing a curfew and firing tear-gas grenades and rubber bullets, witnesses said.

Soldiers also entered the village of Hossam west of Bethlehem and launched house-to-house searches after imposing a curfew, Palestinian security sources said.

In the Jenin refugee camp, Bassam Saadi, 6, was hit in the chest when Israeli troops opened fire with a machine-gun mounted on a tank at a group of children, also wounding a 12-year-old boy, hospital officials said.

The children were throwing stones at Israeli tanks, the sources said.

Israeli troops also arrested more than 30 Palestinians in separate sweeps on the West Bank, including security officers and suspects accused by Israel of belonging to groups behind suicide attacks.

Five Palestinians were nabbed overnight in the Al Khalil region, including two wanted for activities hostile to Israel, military sources and residents of Dura village said.

Twenty-two men were detained in the northern West Bank town of Tubas, where a Palestinian police station was also bulldozed by the army, Palestinian security sources said.

A local leader of the Islamic movement group Hamas, Ibrahim Abu Arra, and a Palestinian security guard, Abdel Hamid Abu Arra, were arrested in the nearby village of Aqqaba, the sources added.

Near the northern town of Jenin the army arrested Mahmud Issa, a 34-year-old member of the military branch of the secular Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades.

Soldiers, backed by a helicopter, laid ambush to Issa who was hiding in a hilly area, and arrested him after the chopper opened fire to force him out into the open, his family told AFP.

The Brigades claimed responsibility for the attack last week on a settlement that killed five people, including a mother and three of her children.

Meanwhile on the Gaza Strip soldiers wrecked a tunnel used to “smuggle weapons” from Egypt to the Palestinian territories in the town of Rafah which straddles the border, military sources said.

A Palestinian street vendor was shot and wounded in the foot by Israeli soldiers when they opened fire at houses in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanun, medical and security officials told AFP.

Soldiers also destroyed the homes of three Palestinians in the Rafah region, security sources said, adding that one house was blown up and the other two levelled by bulldozers.

Israeli tanks deployed near the Rafah border post also fired four shells at homes, causing damage but no casualties, the sources said. Soldiers came under a hail of grenade fire.—AFP

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