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Israel raids West Bank city, seals off Gaza

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Israel raids West Bank city, seals off Gaza

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Israel has stormed backed into the West Bank city of Tulkarem just four months after handing it over to the Palestinian Authority. It has launched an offensive against Islamic Jihad militants who claimed yesterday’s deadly suicide bombing in Natanya. The blast near a shopping mall in the coastal city, killed two teenage girls and two women. Police arrested five militants at Tulkarem and another four at Bethlehem. A Palestinian policeman was shot dead and two Israeli troops were injured in the pre-dawn operation. An Israeli official said the transfer of security powers to the Palestinian Authority at Bethlehem, Ramallah and Kalkiliya, due some time in the coming weeks, has now been suspended. Israel sealed off Jewish settlements in Gaza to non-residents to prevent an influx of settlers opposed to a planned withdrawal next month. Ultraorthodox Jews have been enraged by the proposal. The latest bloodshed, coming five months after Palestinian and Israeli leaders agreed an unofficial truce, could jeopardise the withdrawal, some believe. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon insists the pull-out remains on track. But he warned Israel could resume its policy of targetted killings.