Bodies Recovered in Nablus Rubble
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NABLUS, West Bank (AP) _ Rescue workers pulled the bodies of eight family members _ including a pregnant woman, three young boys and an 85-year-old man _ from the rubble of a home demolished by Israeli bulldozers in the West Bank town of Nablus, a family member said Saturday.
Palestinians allege many civilians were killed in the massive Israeli operation to wipe out militant networks in the West Bank, and Palestinians in some of the hardest-hit areas were just discovering the extent of the damage. Israel has said it has tried to avoid civilian casualties, and the army said it was unaware of the demolition that killed the Shobi family in Nablus.
Israel pulled out of the town of Dahariyeh Saturday but continued its military offensive by sending its tanks into the town of Burkin, near Jenin. Soldiers there used loudspeakers to warn the town’s 5,000 residents not to leave their homes. People in the town said that about 75 families from the Jenin refugee camp _ a militant stronghold _ were in the town.
Concerns about the offensive prompted Secretary of State Colin Powell to visit Israel to press for a quick end to the campaign, a cease-fire and a fresh start to peace negotiations. Powell also is pressuring the Palestinians to stop suicide bombings and other attacks that triggered the Israeli incursions.
Powell was supposed to visit Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on Saturday, but he put off the meeting after a suicide bomber killed six people in a crowded Jerusalem market. Instead, he was to meet with Christian leaders and humanitarian groups to discuss the situation.
It wasn’t clear if Powell and Arafat would meet Sunday. A Palestinian official said on condition of anonymity the United States had given the Palestinian Authority 24 hours to condemn suicide attacks. Arafat might be reluctant to do so as public support for revenge bombings grows.
The Israeli campaign in the West Bank, which began March 29 with the goal of dismantling Palestinian militias behind deadly attacks on Israelis, has included mass arrests, gunbattles and the demolition of homes and buildings deemed to be militant bases, hide-outs or explosives laboratories.
Mahmoud Shobi, 35, said the compound of his brother and father in the northern city of Nablus was not used by militants. The dwellings toppled over April 5 in a crowded section of Nablus’ Old City when Israeli bulldozers demolished an empty building next door, he said.
The demolition killed Samer Shobi, 49, his pregnant wife, Nabela, 40, and the couple’s three sons: Abdelallah, 8, Azam, 6, and Anas, 4, the man said. Also killed was the man’s 85-year-old father, Omar, and his two daughters: Fatamah, 55, and Abeer, 36, said Mahmoud Shobi.
The bodies _ found late Friday and early Saturday _ were taken to the Nablus hospital. Officials there confirmed the deaths.
Israeli military officials said the only building demolished April 5 in the neighborhood was an explosives lab, and the military knew nothing about the collapse of the Shobi home. A military source said troops had not been in the area in the past three days.
The military said it was ``unlikely″ the demolition collapsed the family’s residence because an army engineer was used to ensure surrounding buildings would not be in danger. People in the neighborhood were also warned about the demolition, the military source said.
Mahmoud Shobi didn’t believe the Israeli explanation. ``They have to know they killed people, but the Israelis didn’t care,″ he said.
Shobi said it took him days find his relatives because he couldn’t go out during the strict curfew and phone lines were cut. He said he had assumed his family was safe in a school where Israeli authorities sent residents until fierce fighting in the city died down about two days ago.
The United States has demanded that Israel withdraw immediately from the West Bank. However, the troops remained firmly encamped Saturday in the four main West Bank Palestinian cities: Bethlehem, Ramallah, Jenin and Nablus.
The Israelis have said the operation has involved the arrest of hundreds of suspected militants. Still, the suicide bombings continue.
On Friday, an unidentified female suicide bomber blew herself up in Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market, killing six other people and wounding dozens. The outdoor market was crowded with shoppers making last-minute purchases before the Jewish Sabbath.
The Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, a militia linked to Arafat’s Fatah movement, claimed responsibility for the bombing.
Sheik Ahmed Yassin, spiritual leader of the Islamic militant group Hamas, called the bombing punishment for Israel’s military offensive. ``If Israel thinks that after what they did in Jenin and Nablus they will not be punished, they are mistaken,″ Yassin said.
Late Friday, Israel’s Supreme Court ordered a halt to the army’s removal of Palestinian bodies killed in the Jenin refugee camp, scene of the deadliest fighting of the offensive.
Following an appeal lodged by Israeli Arab lawmakers, the court ordered that the burials be postponed until a hearing is held Sunday.
Army spokesman Brig. Gen. Ron Kitrey had said that the army would begin collecting bodies, separating those of armed men from those of civilians for separate burial in unmarked graves. The bodies of civilians would be turned over to a hospital, Kitrey said.
The military has flatly denied Palestinian allegations that Israel had killed hundreds of civilians in Jenin and was trying to hide the bodies. Army officials have estimated that about 100 Palestinians were killed in the camp, but the army has not allowed Palestinian emergency services to enter the camp to verify the deaths.