A day after President Bush demanded that Israel withdraw from Palestinian territory, Israeli forces searching for the assassins of a Cabinet minister entered a West Bank village today, killing at least six Palestinians.
Israeli forces arrested 10 Palestinians, two of them suspected in the Oct. 17 killing of Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi, the military said.
The troops entered Beit Rima after midnight and encountered armed resistance, the army said. Military sources said six Palestinians were killed, but Palestinian officials said the toll was at least nine.
The military said all the Palestinian dead and wounded were connected to militant Palestinian groups including the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which claimed responsibility for the assassination.
Since Zeevi's assassination, Israeli tanks and troops have moved into six West Bank towns, exchanging fire with gunmen, in Israel's largest military operation in the West Bank since 1994.
In Tuesday's meeting in Washington, Bush told Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres that Israel must withdraw its troops from Palestinian-run parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Bush's personal intervention, following warnings by lower-ranking White House officials, underlined concerns that Washington's customary support for Israel could hurt U.S. efforts to retain Arab and other Muslim countries as allies in the war on terrorism.
Though Bush and Peres had not been scheduled to meet, the president joined talks between the Israeli official and Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser. He stayed 25 minutes, an extraordinarily long time for a drop-in visit.
White House spokesman Sean McCormack said Bush maintained that he is Israel's best friend but called for an immediate end to the Israeli invasion of Palestinian territory.
During his three days in Washington, Peres has assured members of Congress, reporters, Jewish groups and others that Israel will pull back its troops as soon as the Palestinian Authority arrests Zeevi's assassins.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell told Peres the forces should be withdrawn "immediately," regardless of whether the Palestinian authorities move against the assassins, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.
The exchange clearly came as a surprise to Peres, who has long been able to persuade U.S. officials to soften criticism of Israeli actions. Peres' center-left Labor Party has threatened to abandon Israel's coalition government if the Israeli army doesn't withdraw soon.
Administration officials applauded the strong support Peres offered the U.S. military actions in Afghanistan. But they firmly rejected Israel's assertion that the incursion is a skirmish in the war on terrorism, no different from the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan.