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Israeli Courts Upholds Blowing Up Houses


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Israeli Court Upholds Blowing Up Houses


JERUSALEM, Aug. 6 — Saying Israel is in the middle of a war, the Supreme Court today gave the army approval to destroy without notice the homes of 43 families related to suicide bombers, while fearful and frustrated Israelis struggled to find a way to end a new wave of Palestinian attacks.

Israeli helicopter gunships and troops on the ground killed two Palestinian militants — one held responsible for dispatching two suicide bombers to a foreign workers' district of Tel Aviv — in a West Bank village near Jenin before dawn.

This evening, after an intense manhunt, a heavily armed but barefoot Egyptian who infiltrated the border was caught in southern Israel.

[On Wednesday, Israel troops killed one top Palestinian fugitive in a firefight near his West Bank hideout and arrested a second before razing the house where he was staying. In another raid, Israel sent tanks and helicopters into the northern Gaza Strip, killing a Palestinian policeman and arresting three wanted Palestinians, according to The Associated Press.]

The police said they had averted at least one bombing attack in Jerusalem when two sets of explosive devices, packed with metal ball bearings, nails and screws, were found hidden near a tunnel on a settlers' bypass highway just south of the city. And a 16-year-old Palestinian girl was charged in court today with planning a suicide bomb attack. The police said she confessed at a roadblock last night, although she had no explosives.

But those developments did little to calm Israeli nerves shattered by a half-dozen attacks on Sunday that took 13 lives in less than 24 hours and a bomb in a Hebrew University cafeteria last week that killed 7 and injured more than 80. The attacks followed a period of relative calm after the army reoccupied seven Palestinian cities and virtually shut down the West Bank, and came after an Israeli F-16 dropped a one-ton bomb on a crowded Gaza City residential neighborhood, killing the top Hamas military commander, Sheik Salah Shehada, along with 14 other Palestinians, including 9 children.

Today's front pages were dominated by disclosures that during three months of construction, only about 120 feet of the vaunted 225-mile separation fence along the West Bank were completed.

The fence, intended to protect Israel from Palestinian penetration, was hugely popular with voters as a means of blocking suicide bombers.

The reaction has been furious, and Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer promised to visit the construction site every week to hasten the work. In recent days editorials and columnists in the main newspapers have been sharply critical of Mr. Ben-Eliezer and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

The Haaretz columnist Yoel Marcus summed up the gloomy mood, writing, under the headline "This Failure Has a Father," meaning Mr. Sharon: "The security situation has changed the way we live. People keep their distance from public places; tourists and investors keep their distance from Israel; the economy is in the dumps; and unemployment is sky high."

Mr. Ben-Eliezer said 140 would-be suicide bombers were in custody, but that only made people wonder how many more might be out there.

The defense minister met late last night with several senior Palestinian leaders, including Abdel Razzak al-Yahyah, the Palestinian Authority's new interior minister, and Muhammad Dahlan, the former Gaza Strip security chief who is now listed as a security adviser to Yasir Arafat.

But the talks appeared to make little progress. A Palestinian delegation, including Mr. Yahyah and Saeb Erekat, the chief negotiator, was leaving for Washington tonight to meet later in the week with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and the national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice.

Israel's latest tactic is a revival of one it used a dozen years ago, in the first intifada: blowing up the homes of suicide bombers' families in the hope that the destruction will deter further suicide attacks. Over the weekend 11 houses were blown up or bulldozed, sometimes bringing down or damaging nearby homes.

The Supreme Court's decision threw out a petition by 43 families asking for notice before their houses were destroyed, so that they could appeal. The chief justice, Aharon Barak, wrote that Israel was in a state of war and that destroying the houses of terrorists' families was part of the overall war activity. The ruling held that giving notice could endanger soldiers.

In the West Bank village of Jaba, near Jenin, residents said they heard volleys of machine-gun fire and jeeps entering the village during the night. At daybreak villagers found two bullet-riddled bodies in the fields.

"We heard shooting," said a local resident, Walid Alawneh, 26. `'We saw two helicopters in the sky. The helicopters were shooting and the jeeps were shooting."

One of the dead was identified as Ali Ajouri, 23, a local leader of Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades in the Askar refugee camp near Nablus. Israel blames him for dispatching two suicide bombers to Tel Aviv on July 17. Because that was the Jewish fast day Tisha b'Av, commemorating the destruction of the First and Second Temples, restaurants were closed by municipal order all over the city.

Frantically phoning for instructions, the two frustrated bombers wound up in a seedy quarter near the bus station populated mainly by foreign workers, where after rebuffing a prostitute, they blew themselves up almost simultaneously, killing five people, including a Romanian worker and two Chinese.

The second body was identified as that of Murat Marshut, 19, also a member of the Aksa Martyrs Brigades, according to officials of Mr. Arafat's Fatah organization.

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