SLUG: 2-292834 Israel / Palestinians
TITLE=ISRAEL / PALESTINIANS / L
BYLINE= ROSS DUNN
INTRO: The Israeli Army is expanding its operations against Palestinian militants, with raids into the northern Gaza Strip. Ross Dunn reports from Jerusalem.
TEXT: Thirty Israeli tanks swept into Beit Lahiya and have positioned themselves on the outskirts of the Jabalya refugee camp -- a stronghold of Palestinian militant groups.
Israeli forces had pushed two kilometers into Palestinian ruled-territory and have conducted house-to-house searches for wanted Palestinians.
Palestinians in the Gaza Strip had been bracing themselves for an Israeli response, following a suicide bombing by Hamas against a bus in northern Israel, Sunday.
Israel had threatened harsh retaliation against Hamas -- the Islamic Resistance Movement, which uses the Gaza Strip as a key base of operations.
Meanwhile, Israel is offering to gradually pull its troops back from positions in the Gaza Strip, if the Palestinian Authority agrees to take responsibility for halting the activities of militant groups.
Israel proposes that -- if the plans works in Gaza -- it could become a prelude to further pull-outs in the West Bank, most of which has remained under military control since June.
The initial reaction of Palestinian officials has been to reject the proposal. However, leader Yasser Arafat is reported to be preparing to convene his cabinet, later today, to discuss the issue in more detail.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is convening a meeting of top security advisors, later today, to discuss preparations in case of a "mega-terror attack" involving many casualties.
Mr. Sharon wants high-level government and military officials to prepare for a "worst-case scenario" in which Palestinian groups would attempt to carry out a major terrorist attack that would leave many Israelis dead. (signed)
NEB / RD / WD
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