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Israel closes off Bethlehem after settler dies

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israel slapped a travel ban on the West Bank town of Bethlehem on Monday after gunmen fired at a Jewish settler whose car then crashed into a truck.

The Israel Defense Forces said at least 15 bullets hit the car driven by a Jewish settler from Gush Etzion.

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Authorities said the man then lost control of his car after he was shot and died when his car collided at high speed with a truck.

The army said the gunmen responsible for the attack were believed to have returned to Bethlehem, which is controlled by Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority.

The incident comes as Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon visits Washington for talks with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and U.S. President George W. Bush.

The closure of Bethlehem had been lifted last week after international criticism of Sharon for tightening travel restrictions on Palestinian cities.

Just before leaving for Washington, Sharon ordered Israeli security officials to meet with their Palestinian counterparts to discuss ways of curbing the violence.

He has said that peace negotiations with the Palestinians cannot go on while the violence continues.

In another incident, mortar shells were fired at an Israeli Army post inside Israel near the Gaza border. The IDF said a unit operating inside the Palestinian-controlled area was responsible.

It was the first such attack against Israeli territory although there have been similar firings on Jewish settlements within Gaza.

Israeli troops fired tear gas and stun grenades to disperse a demonstration of several hundred Palestinian women who had marched on an Israeli checkpoint between Ramallah on the West Bank and Jerusalem.

One of the stun grenades landed near Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestinian cabinet. Ashrawi suffered two bruises on her legs. She called for an international protection force to protect Palestinians.

The women were protesting the continued travel restrictions on Palestinians, which prevent Palestinians from traveling to work in Israel.

Sharon campaigned on the promise of returning security to Israel. His government has maintained a policy of closing off cities and towns where violence has occurred while lifting travel bans in areas where violence has subsided.



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RELATED SITES:
The Israeli Prime Minister's Office
Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Palestinian National Authority

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