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Diplomacy seems impotent in the face of such raw, depraved warfare. Two weeks since the beginning of Israel's assault on the West Bank and a year and a half since the start of this intifadeh, emotions among both Israelis and Palestinians have hardened into an implacable rage. Israeli sources told TIME that Israeli army commanders last week proposed pumping nausea-inducing gas into Arafat's compound and the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem to drive out the Palestinian fighters holed up there. The idea was eventually rejected by Itzik Eitan, head of the Israeli Central Command. During a week of heavy fighting between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants in the Jenin refugee camp, 13 Israeli soldiers were killed in an ambush--the most military deaths suffered by Israel in a single operation since 1985. As many as 500 Palestinians are said to have died in Jenin, and Palestinians claimed the Israeli forces massacred Palestinian men and buried them in mass graves. (The Israelis denied the charges.)
Israeli officials provided the following inventory of weaponry seized during their two-week sweep of Palestinian towns and villages: 1,340 Kalashnikovs, 37 hand grenades, 70 kg of explosives and five suicide-bombing belts, among other pieces of hardware. To the Israelis, the unearthing of such ordnance and the resurgence in Palestinian suicide attacks demonstrated the urgency of their military operation against the Palestinian Authority, which they see as synonymous with the terrorist infrastructure. (The Israelis point to documents seized in Arafat's headquarters that they say prove payments for bombs and bombers are authorized by the chairman himself.) Sharon's army chief of staff, Shaul Mofaz, has told Sharon the military may need another month to finish its operation. Since the start of the assault, the Israelis have rounded up almost 1,200 men suspected of involvement in terrorist groups; in Jenin alone, the army captured more than 80 wanted men, including a few "heavy terrorists." The army says its door-to-door searches are intended to locate weapons stashes and explosives factories. They are also trying to eradicate the offensive capabilities of the Palestinian radicals by taking them on--and killing them--in gun battles. Cabinet officials tell TIME that once the operation ends, the Israelis plan to erect buffer zones inside the West Bank that Palestinians will be barred from entering.