Late last night, the U.N. Security Council approved a resolution endorsing a Palestinian state for the first time, supporting a U.S. measure that also calls for an immediate cease-fire in the escalating 17-month Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The resolution, the first the United States has introduced since the latest bloodshed began in September 2000, won won support from 14 of the 15 council members, with Syria abstaining.
Earlier yesterday, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in his harshest criticism of Israel, urged it to stop "the bombing of civilian areas, the assassinations, the unnecessary use of lethal force, the demolitions and the daily humiliation of ordinary Palestinians."
Some 150 armored vehicles, including tanks, thrust into Ramallah and nearby refugee camps yesterday, tearing up roads and crushing cars in the main Palestinian commercial and political hub in the West Bank, witnesses said.
The invasion force stayed out of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat's headquarters in the city, and Israel's army chief, Lt. Gen. Shaul Mofaz, reiterated that Israel had no plans to topple or harm him.
Gunmen fired at troops who went from house to house in Ramallah, a city of more than 200,000, searching for weapons and militants.
At least five Palestinians were killed in the city and another was killed during a gun battle in the West Bank town of Hebron.
The latest operations represented Israel's biggest offensive in the West Bank and Gaza Strip since it seized the two areas in the 1967 Middle East war.
Ramallah and other Palestinian cities are governed by Arafat's Palestinian Authority under interim peace deals with Israel.
Hours after tanks occupied Ramallah, two gunmen disguised as Israeli soldiers killed six Israelis near the Lebanese border before troops shot them dead.
Israeli troops and tanks had battled their way into the Jabalya refugee camp in the Gaza Strip earlier yesterday, killing at least 17 Palestinians in fierce fighting, Palestinian hospital sources and witnesses said.
Nine Palestinians were killed in other violence in Gaza and an Israeli was shot dead in a West Bank ambush.
At least 1,056 Palestinians and 340 Israelis have been killed since the uprising began.
Col. Gad Hirsch, head of Israeli military operations in the West Bank, said soldiers had captured dozens of "hardcore" militants, confiscated weapons arsenals and located bomb-making factories in sweeps of refugee camps in recent days.
In an incident that embarrassed Israel, a state founded after the Holocaust that killed 6 million Jews, soldiers marked identification numbers on the arms of Palestinians arrested in one of the sweeps earlier this week.
Arafat, drawing a comparison with numbers tattooed on the arms of Jews in Nazi concentration camps during World War Two, said the Israeli army's conduct during the sweeps amounted to "new Nazi racism."
Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer "instructed all security authorities to stop it immediately."
Yesterday, witnesses said, troops rounded up at least 170 Palestinians from Ramallah and nearby towns. Many of them were taken, blindfolded and with hands tied, to an army base for questioning.
In a grim warning, the blood-streaked body of a Palestinian shot to death for allegedly collaborating with Israel was strung up by the ankles yesterday in the middle of Ramallah. *