Israel seals Palestinian areas

The number of human bombings in the past two days rose to five early on Monday when a Palestinian on a bicycle exploded himself, lightly injuring three Israeli soldiers. Israel reacted to the bombings by sealing off Palestinian areas and its prime minister putting off a trip to the US.

    Shut down: The West Bank has
    been sealed after yesterday's
    attacks in annexed East Jerusalem

    The attack near the Jewish settlement of Kfar Darom in central Gaza came a day after back-to-back bombings in Jerusalem, one of which killed seven people on a bus.


    Israel army radio said the attacker drew up near a military jeep on patrol and detonated his load, killing only himself.


    The Islamic movement Hamas has claimed responsibility for at least four of the attacks. The fifth attack was claimed by Fatah.


    "We will burn the earth beneath the feet of the Zionists occupiers," Hamas' military wing said in a statement.


    "The glorious operations are in retaliation for the assassination of Ibrahim Al-Maqadmeh," the statement said in reference to the Hamas security chief killed with three of his bodyguards on 8 March by the Israeli army in the Gaza Strip.


    All three bombers came from the flashpoint West Bank city of Hebron, Hamas said, where a 600-strong Jewish settlement has occupied part of the city centre, raising tensions with Palestinian residents and imposing a daily curfew on them.


    West Bank closure


    Palestinians are held back at an
    Israeli checkpoint, following the
    renewed closure of the territories

    The West Bank was closed off by the Israeli military in the aftermath of yesterday's bombings in Jerusalem.


    The Israeli army announced the closure on Sunday, saying it was sealing off the West Bank anew.


    The Gaza Strip has long been locked-down while movement in the West Bank was tightly restricted even before yesterday’s renewed restrictions.


    "The West Bank is completely sealed off," said Aljazeera correspondent Walid Al Umary. "Nothing is allowed in or out and Palestinian towns and villages are isolated."


    "At night, the Israeli army operates regular patrols, and launches searching campaigns. Fourteen Palestinians have been arrested so far in arrests in Bethlehem, Al Deheshe camp, and the Galin town, close to Ramallah," he said.


    "In the Gaza strip - away from the media focus - Israeli forces have been demolishing Palestinian houses and destroying farmlands. In Bait Hanoun, three buildings in which 70 Palestinian live, were demolished."


    The West Bank closure means Palestinians will be barred from working in Israel, a key source of income for them.


    In other developments:

    • Aljazeera's correspondent reported that five Palestinian children were wounded in the West Bank town of Bait Fourik. Palestinian eyewitnesses said that Israeli soldiers stormed the town's elementary school, beating the fourth grade students and teachers and shooting gas bombs inside the school.

    • The army demolished the home of the Hebron bomber on Monday, in what an Israeli army spokesman called “a message to suicide terrorists and their partners in terror".

    • The army shot dead a 13-year-old youth in clashes in northern Gaza on Sunday. Witnesses said he was in a crowd throwing stones at soldiers.

    Arafat blamed 


    Israeli ministers renewed calls for Palestinian Chairman Yasser Arafat to be expelled following yesterday’s blasts in occupied Jerusalem. They have long blamed him for being behind Palestinian guerilla attacks and human bombings


    On Sunday, the Israeli government blamed Arafat for the Jerusalem attacks and said it would not receive any foreign leader who meets him.


    The Palestinian president reacted angrily to accusations that he has formed an alliance with Islamists in a attempt to sabotage Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas’ new government.


    "I have put forward my support by all means to him and his government and I will continue this," Arafat told television channel Fox News, adding: "Do not forget that I have my role also as I have been elected."    


    He said he would never accept expulsion and said the violence would not stop until the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land ends.


    Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon postponed on Sunday a trip to Washington for crucial talks with US President George W Bush on the US-backed peace process, but reiterated his commitment to talks with Abbas.


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