JERUSALEM – Israeli military forces killed 10 Palestinians on Wednesday in the West Bank, the highest single-day death toll there in 18 months, and Israeli officials warned that troops would continue attacks against Palestinians while Prime Minister Ariel Sharon moves ahead with proposals to remove Jewish settlements from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank.
“We have to intensify our activities. That’s the instruction that the prime minister gave to the defense minister” and the military, said Raanan Gissin, a spokesman for Sharon. “There has to be a heavy hand against terrorist infrastructure and leadership so when we disengage, they will be on the run and we will walk out.”
Palestinian medical officials identified the dead as an 11-year-old girl struck in the head by a bullet, six militants and three Palestinian security officials. A spokeswoman for the Israeli military said troops killed nine militants. She said she had no information on the death of the child.
Troops identified by the Israeli news media as navy commandos attacked a house in Nablus, in the northern West Bank, in a predawn raid that killed five gunmen and Maram Nahleh, 11, who was inside her house about 15 feet from the garden where the shooting erupted, according to Palestinian hospital officials and a witness from the neighborhood.
Palestinian security officials said four of the gunmen were members of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the armed wing of Yasser Arafat’s Fatah political movement, and the fifth was from Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a Syrian-based group that has been active throughout the four-year-old Palestinian uprising.
As tanks and armored vehicles swarmed through Nablus after the early morning attack, thousands of residents poured into the streets, pelting the Israelis with rocks and molotov cocktails, according to witnesses and the Israeli military spokeswoman.
“This is a big crime that cannot be forgiven and is part of Israeli determination to escalate aggression,” Arafat, the Palestinian leader, told reporters at his Ramallah headquarters.
Sharon’s announced plans to remove all settlements from the Gaza Strip and four small, isolated settlements from the West Bank have provoked increasingly vocal protests from settlement organizations and death threats against Sharon from Jewish extremists, according to Israeli officials. Twice this year, members of Sharon’s Likud Party have voted against initiatives aimed at advancing the plan.
Although Sharon’s government has taken only the most preliminary bureaucratic steps toward removing Jewish settlers, the Israeli military has escalated attacks against Palestinians in Gaza. Until Wednesday, Israeli forces had conducted continual , smaller-scale operations in the West Bank, but the raid in Nablus as well as another in Jenin resulted in the bloodiest day there since the spring of last year.