Israeli Forces Raid Refugee Camp

Israeli soldiers on Friday raided a West Bank refugee camp – a stronghold of Palestinian militants – following back-to-back attacks on Israel's largest fuel depot, a pedestrian mall and a nightclub.

As fighting persisted, an adviser to Yasser Arafat said the Palestinian leader will hold general elections this winter, but only if Israeli troops pull back to positions they held before the outbreak of fighting in September 2000.

Israeli forces, however, looked poised to stay in the West Bank.

Israel TV's Channel Two reported that the army has been given a green light to launch a new military campaign, including raids into Palestinian cities that could last for several days. Raanan Gissin, an adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said he was not aware of government approval for a new offensive.

In the Tulkarem refugee camp in the northern West Bank, Palestinian militiamen ambushed Israeli soldiers riding atop an armored personnel carrier at the camp's entrance, wounding two soldiers. In the hail of gunfire, one of the soldiers fell from the vehicle, said a Palestinian gunman, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The Israeli army said one soldier was killed.

Tank gunners fired shells and machine guns, and four Palestinians were wounded, including a woman and a 4-year-old child, Palestinian doctors said.

The Israeli military confirmed the exchange of fire.

Israeli troops imposed a curfew in Tulkarem. Israeli soldiers have been carrying out daily arrest raids in Palestinian areas following a recent military offensive aimed at dismantling militant groups that have launched scores of bombing and shooting attacks against Israelis.

A brief lull in attacks ended this week.

In a third attack in 28 hours, a Palestinian militant drove a bomb-laden car at high speed toward a Tel Aviv night club early Friday, but was shot and killed by a security guard. The assailant tried to blow up the Studio 49 club in Tel Aviv, where about 200 people were partying at about 1 a.m.

Security guard Eli Federman said he saw the car turn sharply and race toward the club. He pushed clubgoers inside and opened fire, hitting the attacker, who fell from the car, which burst into flames.

"Then I fired the rest of the bullets into his head," killing him, Federman said.

The car had been carrying pipe bombs.

The Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, a militia linked to Arafat's Fatah movement, identified the driver as Amer Shkokani of the West Bank town of El Bireh.

A suicide bombing Wednesday in the Tel Aviv suburb of Rishon Letzion was also carried out by the Al Aqsa militia. Two Israelis and the bomber were killed.

The attacker, 16-year-old Issa Bdeir from Al Doha village outside Bethlehem, was the youngest suicide bomber during 20 months of fighting.

In a videotaped farewell message, the boy wore a backpack and posed with two pistols.

"I am going to carry out my operation to avenge the continuous Israeli aggression that is still committed against our people," he said, reading from a piece of paper.

Arafat's office issued a statement Friday denying that his Fatah movement had any link to the Al Aqsa militia's leaflets claiming responsibility for recent attacks. That statement highlighted growing division within the Palestinian faction over bombing attacks.

No Palestinian group has claimed responsibility for Thursday's attack on the Pi Glilot fuel depot, in which a bomb attached to the underside of a tanker truck exploded, destroying the cabin but causing no injuries. The depot, Israel's largest, is in the center of the country's most densely populated area near Tel Aviv.

The attack highlighted Israel's vulnerability to large-scale, strategic attacks that security officials and counterterrorism experts warned Palestinians were seeking to carry out.

Security officials also announced this week that they uncovered a plot to explode trucks laden with a ton of explosives under Tel Aviv's twin Azrieli Towers, Israel's tallest buildings.

Sharon's office said Friday that 32 Palestinian attacks had been foiled since Israel's large-scale military operation in the West Bank wound down last week.

Also Friday, a senior adviser to Arafat said the Palestinian leader plans to hold elections for president and parliament this winter, as long as Israeli military forces withdraw to positions they held before fighting began 20 months ago.

Arafat is under pressure from abroad and at home to reform his Palestinian Authority, and to unify the Palestinian security services into one agency.

Before elections are held, Arafat also wants to be sure that Palestinian residents of traditionally Arab east Jerusalem will be allowed to participate – as they did in 1996, said his adviser, Nabil Abu Rdeneh.

Abu Rdeneh also said Arafat would appoint a new, smaller Cabinet for the interim period leading up to the elections.