Israeli tanks and infantry early today raided two Palestinian villages near the West Bank town of Tulkarm, killing four Palestinians and rounding up more than 20 people, Israeli and Palestinian security officials said.
And during the morning rush hour, a Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up at a busy intersection on the northern edge of the Israeli city of Haifa. Early reports indicated that he killed only himself and that several Israeli soldiers standing nearby were injured.
Meanwhile, near Tulkarm, Israeli forces entered the villages of Anabta and Ramin about 2:30 a.m., searched houses, burned one and bulldozed the main road of Anabta as helicopters hovered overhead, Palestinian witnesses said.
An Israeli army spokeswoman said Israeli troops confronted two Palestinian cars fleeing Anabta. Police inside the cars opened fire on the Israelis, who returned fire, killing four and wounding two others, the army said. A small number of guns was found inside the cars, the spokeswoman said.
But Palestinian security officials in Tulkarm, the nearest large town, said Israeli soldiers opened fire first, despite an agreement that the troops would enter only to arrest militants. "We were not expecting to be shot at," one official said by telephone.
The army said the raids were aimed at cracking "the wide network of terror in the villages east of Tulkarm." The raids were among dozens of incursions into Palestinian territory that Israeli forces have been carrying out in recent weeks in the name of stopping terrorism.
The Palestinian officials said 21 people were arrested by Israel today. The army said the operation was continuing.
In Haifa, police said the suicide bomber struck at an intersection where hundreds of soldiers and other Israelis were waiting for buses.
Sunday is the start of the workweek in Israel, and the intersection, with a bus station and shopping mall, was packed with people.
Haifa was the scene of a suicide bombing on a bus last week that killed 15 people.
Meanwhile, Israeli media reported today that the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has grounded Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat and will not let him travel to the centennial celebrations of the Nobel prizes in Oslo, nor to an upcoming Arab foreign ministers meeting. Israeli forces last week destroyed Arafat's helicopters and dug up the runway of the only Palestinian airport, but this is the first time that Arafat has been barred from traveling.
Sharon, meanwhile, told Newsweek magazine that he considered Arafat to be a "real terrorist" with whom a peace deal will never be possible. A poll published Friday said 56% of Israelis agree that Arafat should be removed from power--a position once the purview only of the extreme right wing.
Israel maintains that Arafat is not taking adequate steps to rein in militants who have attacked Israelis. But Arafat, in a series of interviews with U.S. and other media, insisted that he has arrested 17 suspects from a list of 33 given to him by Israel and that he is working on the rest.
And in a rare interview with Israeli television over the weekend, a visibly irritated Arafat displayed fury with the United States.
Asked about U.S. urgings that he do more to stop terrorism, Arafat said: "Good God! Don't talk to me about the Americans. The Americans stand by your side and give you everything. Who gives you planes? The Americans! Who gives you tanks? The Americans! Who gives you money? The Americans!"