Israeli troops backed by more than 100 tanks poured into the center of the West Bank city of Nablus Friday, killing three Palestinians as Israel hit back for a Jerusalem university bombing in which seven died.
CBS News Correspondent Robert Berger reports the military operation is the Israeli army's biggest since six weeks ago, when troops re-occupied most of the West Bank.
Israeli soldiers went from house to house in the Casbah, or Old City, smashing holes in connecting walls to avoid exposure to gunmen outside, as they searched for militants, detaining at least 30 suspects, witnesses said.
Heavy machine gun fire from Israeli tanks echoed through the streets.
In three West Bank towns, the army demolished four homes, at least three of them belonging to relatives of suicide attackers.
Palestinian President Yasser Arafat condemned the demolitions, which left dozens homeless, as a crime against humanity.
"I am asking for quick international intervention from the United Nations. If they are not able to send forces, they should send observers," Arafat told a news conference in the
West Bank city of Ramallah.
The Israeli army said the Nablus assault was aimed at rooting out a "local terror network" just two days after the militant Palestinian group Hamas detonated a bomb in a cafeteria at Hebrew University, killing five Americans and two Israelis.
The bodies of Janis Coulter, 36, a New York-based administrator for Hebrew University and Benjamin Blutstein, 25 a student from Pennsylvania who was in Israel on a study program for Jewish educators were flown home Friday as the FBI launched an investigation into the attack, which drew words of outrage from President Bush.
The other Americans killed in the bombing are Marla Bennett, 24; David Gritz, 24, who also had French citizenship; and Dina Carter, 37, who also had Israeli citizenship. The two Israeli dead were David Ladovsky, 29, and Levina Shapira, 53.
The American deaths seemed certain to complicate U.S. attempts to calm a conflict raging for more than 22 months.
The Israeli operation followed Bush's harsh condemnation of Wednesday's bombing an expression of support for Israel's right to defend itself.
"I'm just as angry as Israel is right now," Bush told reporters on Thursday in Washington. "I'm furious that innocent life was lost. However, through my fury, even though I am mad, I still believe peace is possible."
A senior Bush administration official said the Federal Bureau of Investigation had opened a probe into the university bombing.
"We are cooperating with Israeli law enforcement authorities in pursuing the investigation," the official said, adding that the FBI would look into "everything concerning the deaths" of the Americans.
Hamas, dedicated to Israel's destruction, said Wednesday's bombing was part of its revenge for Israel's assassination of its military commander in an air raid last week that also killed 14 other Palestinians, including nine children.
After vowing harsh retaliation against Hamas, Israel sent columns of tanks deep into the heart of Palestinian-ruled Nablus, which has been surrounded and under curfew for weeks.
Security officials believe the bomb used in Wednesday's attack was produced in an explosives laboratory hidden in the warren of alleyways in Nablus' Casbah, the Israeli media said.
Troops exchanged fire with gunmen as soldiers assaulted the Casbah where militants holed up and fought fiercely during a month-long Israeli offensive in the West Bank last spring.
Palestinian security and medical sources said troops killed a Hamas member in his home in a village on the outskirts of Nablus and shot dead two other Palestinians in the Casbah.
Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said on his return from the United States that Bush asked Israel to ease conditions on Palestinians while carrying out its anti-militant offensive.
"The innocent civilian population should not be a victim to this," Peres told reporters.
In the Gaza Strip, Israeli troops shot an 85-year-old Palestinian woman as she walked near a Jewish settlement late at night, the army said. It said she was treated by medics for leg wounds and transferred to an Israeli hospital where she died.
The woman's son earlier said she was shot dead as she slept in her home. Half a dozen tanks thrust into Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip Friday, and a Palestinian man was killed by Israeli gunfire, Palestinian security sources said.
In the West Bank city of Hebron, the army blew up the home of a Palestinian gunman who shot dead two Israelis in Jerusalem last November before police killed him. Relatives of the militant said 50 people were made homeless.
In Tulkarm, also in the West Bank, Israeli forces destroyed a house belonging to the family of a Palestinian suicide bomber who killed three people in Israel in 2001, the military said.
Later in Nablus, soldiers blew up two houses, one of them owned by the family of a suicide bomber who killed seven people in Jerusalem on June 19, witnesses said. It was not immediately clear if the family in the second house was linked to militants.
The demolitions followed a decision by Israel's security cabinet to take action against the relatives of militants who order or carry out attacks against Israelis.
Israeli officials say deportations could deter future assailants and the measures would only be taken against family members who were accomplices to the attacks.
An Israeli general signed orders Thursday for the deportation from the West Bank to the fenced-in Gaza Strip of the brothers of two militants.
The army said one was the brother of the organizer of two bus ambushes near the Emmanuel settlement in which 19 people were killed and the other the brother of the bomb-maker behind a suicide attack in Tel Aviv in July which killed five people.
A committee considering whether to approve the deportation orders would resume its deliberations Sunday, Army radio said. Lawyers for the two men said they would appeal to the Supreme Court if the decree was not revoked.
An Israeli commander said it would take several days to flush out militants operating in the Nablus Casbah.
The army said it had uncovered two explosives laboratories. Its forces also captured a suicide bomber from the Islamic Jihad group near the West Bank city of Jenin.
Israeli forces seized control of Nablus and most other West Bank cities following suicide bombings in Jerusalem in mid-June.
At least 1,477 Palestinians and 574 Israelis have been killed since a Palestinian uprising began in September 2000.