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Beit Jala quiet; fighting reported elsewhere on West Bank



BEIT JALA, West Bank (CNN) -- Israeli troops pulled out of Beit Jala before dawn on Thursday, leaving the Palestinian town quiet amid reports of fresh violence in other West Bank towns.

The Palestinians said the Israel Defense Forces had staged incursions into Hebron, killing one and injuring 16 others, and Tulkarem, killing one and injuring 10. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) had no immediate comment on the accusation that troops had entered Tulkarem, and strongly denied there was an incursion at Hebron.

The army said there was an exchange of fire in the town's Abu Sneineh neighborhood where Israeli tanks are normally stationed and that a single tank fired one shell.

Location

Beit Jala: an Arab town about two kilometers west of the West Bank town of Bethlehem

Gilo: a Jewish neighborhood less than one kilometer from Beit Jala

Population

Beit Jala: 10,000, according to Arabic Media Internet Network

Gilo: 45,000, according to Jewish Telegraphic Agency

At Issue

Israel says Palestinians in Beit Jala are firing on Gilo and it will withdraw its military from Beit Jala when the shooting on Gilo ceases.

Gilo is built on land Israel captured from Jordan in 1967. Israelis consider it a southern neighborhood of Jerusalem; Palestinians consider it occupied land that belongs to Beit Jala.


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But the Palestinians said eight Israeli tanks drove 300 meters into the Wadi Hariyeh neighborhood in Hebron, which is under Palestinian Authority control.

Palestinian security officials said in the subsequent firefight, a Palestinian physician, Dr. Musa Ikdemat, 50, was killed. They said 16 other Palestinians were wounded. The Palestine Red Crescent Society says five of the injured are in very critical condition.

The Palestinian sources said one Israeli tank was damaged when an explosive device went off next to it.

At Tulkarem, the province's governor, Izzedin Sharif, said around 7 a.m. two Israeli tanks and two armored personnel carriers took up positions at the Anabta village crossing point.

He said Israeli infantry fanned out into the nearby area of Bala'a firing at Palestinians. He said a 32-year-old Palestinian, Daud Fahmawi, was hit in the head by an Israeli bullet and killed. Ten others were wounded, he said, with gunshots to their legs and shoulders.

Sharif said following the clash, four Israeli tanks went 200 meters inside the Nurshamf refugee camp in Tulkarem. He said after a gun battle, the tanks withdrew.

Israeli man killed

In other developments, Israeli police said a Palestinian gunman Thursday shot and killed an Israeli citizen eating in a restaurant in the Palestinian village of Naleen near the West Bank town of Ramallah.

The shooting came hours after Israel troops pulled out of the West Bank town of Beit Jala, ending a 50-hour incursion into Palestinian-controlled territory.

Police said the 60-year-old man was shot in the head. Israel Radio said the man was with some Palestinian friends when the incident took place. The radio report said a masked gunman came into the restaurant, shot the man in the head, drug his body outside and dumped it in the street.

There was no immediate comment from Palestinian security officials.

The incursion into Beit Jala was the longest yet by Israel into Palestinian-controlled territory and was described by Israelis as an attempt to end firing on the Jewish neighborhood of Gilo on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Gilo is built on land Israel occupied in 1967. Israelis consider it a neighborhood of Jerusalem; Palestinians consider it occupied West Bank territory.

It took only 20 minutes for Israeli troops, tanks, armored personal carriers and other ground support units to roll out of the area. The withdrawal is the result of an agreement struck Wednesday between Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Under the agreement, the Palestinian Authority was to stop Palestinian attackers from firing on Jerusalem in exchange for the Israeli withdrawal.

After more than eight hours of calm in the region, Israel's Security Cabinet decided to withdraw the forces though warned they would remain poised nearby should Palestinian attacks resume.

A statement from the Security Cabinet said if there were further shootings, troops would return to Beit Jala and even expand their control there.

Palestinian sources said Palestinian Authority forces will move into the area to ensure there will be no more firing across the valley from Beit Jala into Gilo.






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RELATED SITES:
• Palestine Red Crescent Society
• Palestinian Authority
• Israel Defense Forces
• Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs
• United Nations

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