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Israel Invades Jericho

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Israeli tanks and bulldozers rolled into the West Bank oasis town of Jericho early Thursday, a day after Israeli forces invaded another town and two villages.

In the Wednesday raids, seven Palestinians, among them three suspected Islamic militants and an 11-year-old girl, were killed.

Palestinian security officials said 22 Israeli tanks and three bulldozers entered Jericho from two sides. The Israeli military had no immediate comment.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, who lives in Jericho, drew a connection between the incursion and the terror attacks in New York and Washington Tuesday that destroyed the World Trade Center and damaged the Pentagon.

"The Israelis are using the tragedy of the events in New York and Washington, feeling that the attention of the world is elsewhere," he said. "There was nothing to provoke this."

He told The Associated Press that he had called U.S. Assistant Secretary of State William Burns, the American Middle East envoy, and European Union envoy Miguel Moratinos to complain about the Israeli move.

A cloud of smoke and an orange glow could be seen at the Aqbat Jaber refugee camp area at the south end of the town, near the Oasis Casino, a main Jericho landmark and attraction that has been closed down at the beginning of the Palestinian-Israeli fighting nearly a year ago.

The main official Palestinian buildings in Jericho, an oasis town in the arid Jordan River valley, are an old military base used as police headquarters and a prison. West Bank Preventive Security chief Jibril Rajoub has an office in the town, and Erekat's office is located in a complex of Palestinian Authority buildings in Jericho.

It was not immediately clear what the purpose of the Israeli incursion was, but the presence of the bulldozers indicated that they intended to tear down Palestinian structures, as they have in previous incursions into Palestinian-controlled areas.

In other violence after nightfall Wednesday, an Israeli woman was killed in a Palestinian shooting ambush in the West Bank, the military said.

Israel, meanwhile, started easing restrictions adopted after the attacks in the United States, gradually opening its air space, said Pini Schiff, Ports Authority spokesman.

He said planes would be cleared for landing from 22 airports in the first stage, based on security considerations. The airports were in East and Western Europe, including London, Paris and Vienna, as well as Cairo, Egypt and Amman, Jordan.

However, Israel's land border crossings would remain closed until further notice, he said.

The limitations scuttled Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's long-awaited trip to Syria to mend fences after two decades of strained relations. Arafat was to have met Wednesday in Damascus with Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Israel did not give Arafat permission to fly from Gaza to Egypt, and he was unable to make the trip by land, Palestinian officials said.

Early Wednesday, Israeli tanks moved firsinto the West Bank town of Jenin and then entered Tamoun and Arrabeh, two nearby villages. Seven Palestinians were killed in the raids. Two were members of the radical Islamic Jihad, killed when Israeli tanks shelled their hideout. The 11-year-old sister of a third militant in the house also died, Palestinian security officials said.

The Islamic Jihad has claimed responsibility for many bomb attacks in Israel that have killed dozens and wounded hundreds.

In Tamoun, the Israelis destroyed a house that belonged of a suspected militant killed in an Israel raid in July.

In a separate incident, three Palestinian security officials were killed when their convoy of unmarked cars came under Israeli helicopter attack near Tamoun, witnesses said.

In Jenin, Israeli tanks and bulldozers destroyed a two-story police headquarters building and then returned to the edge of the town. A gunman from the militant Hamas was killed by a tank shell during the incursion.

The Israeli army said the building was a "terror center." It confirmed the incursions into Tamoun and Arrabeh.

In Gaza, a Palestinian was killed when soldiers opened fire on a taxi. The military said the vehicle ignored orders to stop.

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