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Israel to lift Jericho blockade

helicopter
An Israeli helicopter fires as a border police jeep pursues gunmen along the border between Israel and Jordan.  


JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israel's defense minister, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, said Tuesday that Israel would lift its monthlong blockade on the West Bank town of Jericho.

Israeli troops remain deployed in several West Bank towns, including Ramallah, where Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has been confined for weeks since a spate of deadly suicide bombings aimed at Israelis by Palestinian militants.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad issued a statement Tuesday declaring it would not do anything that harms Palestinian unity.

Arafat has requested Islamic Jihad stop attacks on Israel. The Islamic Jihad statement, issued in Gaza, came days after Palestinian militant group Hamas said it would suspend attacks on Israel in the interest of Palestinian unity.

Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader Nafez Azzam said that his group "confirms and asserts its keen interest in preserving the unity of Palestinian people."

He said Islamic Jihad is aware of "international circumstances" and said the group is "not going to be a reason or source of internal tension or for any international pressure on Arafat."

Palestinian security sources said while Islamic Jihad was not expected to make an outright declaration that it was stopping attacks, officials had been told the group will not confront the Palestinian Authority or carry out "provocative acts" that would result in more international pressure on Arafat.

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Hamas is an Islamic fundamentalist group whose military wing, Izzedine al Quassam, has carried out terror operations against Israelis. Palestinian Islamic Jihad is a militant group dedicated to the creation of an Islamic Palestinian state and the destruction of Israel.

Israelis search for gunmen in Jordan

Word on the Islamic Jihad decision came on a day when Israeli troops crossed the Jordan River in hot pursuit of gunmen who killed one Israeli and wounded four others near the town of Beit Shean in the Jordan Valley.

Later, the Israeli army said that the bodies of two unidentified gunmen had been found in Israeli territory in the northern Jordan Valley as they searched in coordination with Jordan's army.

According to Israel Defense Forces, the gunmen opened fire on a military patrol near the Jordan River that divides Israel and Jordan at about 6 a.m. (11 p.m. EST Monday).

The army spokesman said the patrol members believe the shooting came from the other side of the river, inside Jordan, a charge that Jordan has denied. Two Israeli soldiers were injured in the shooting, one seriously, the Israeli army said.

Pursuing the gunmen, Israeli troops became involved in a firefight in which one soldier was killed and two others wounded.

The troops searched Jordanian land that is under long-term lease to Israeli farmers as part of the 1994 peace agreement between the two nations. The peace accord allows Israeli forces to enter Jordan if in hot pursuit of suspects.

In a separate incident, the Israeli military, including infantry, tank and engineering forces, early Tuesday rolled into the West Bank village of Tamoun, where they arrested Hamas activists wanted for terrorist activities, an Israel Defense Forces statement said.

"The forces exited the village after completing their mission," the statement said. "No one was hurt. Those arrested were transferred to the security forces for investigation."

Palestinian security sources said that Israeli forces entered Tamoun about 2 a.m. (7 p.m. EST Monday) and arrested seven Palestinians belonging to Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The security sources also said Israeli helicopters fired on specific houses in the village, but no one was hurt.

Tamoun is in Palestinian-controlled Area A, where the Palestinian Authority is responsible for civil and security operations.





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