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Battle for land claims third Palestinian life

The killing of a third Palestinian land dealer at the weekend and the attempted kidnapping of a fourth for allegedly selling land to Israelis marks a stepping up of the war over the control of land in Jerusalem.

The body of Mohammed Ali Jamhour, a 33-year-old Palestinian, was found dumped on a minor road just outside the Palestinian enclave of Ramallah. He had been shot twice in the neck. Israeli police said yesterday that they foiled the kidnapping of a second Palestinian when they stopped a car on its way to Ramallah and arrested six men, armed with pistols, who were holding him.

Mr Jamhour was almost certainly killed because he was involved in the sale of a house previously owned by Palestinians in the Abu Tor district of Jerusalem to an extreme Israeli settler organisation called Elad. Along with its sister organisation Ateret Cohanim (Crown of the Priests), Elad is dedicated to replacing Palestinians with Jews in Jerusalem.

Three land dealers have been killed in the past three weeks. Israeli police said that four of the armed men held for kidnapping were members of Preventive Security, the largest Palestinian security service. They accused a Preventive officer in Ramallah of organising an earlier killing. Shai Bazaq, the Israeli Prime Minister's spokesman, said: "Land dealers have been murdered with the open encouragement of senior figures in the Palestinian Authority."

The land war in and around Jerusalem has escalated since Benjamin Netanyahu became Prime Minister a year ago. Settler organisations, which had suspended operations under the previous Labour government, starting taking over Palestinian properties. The building of a new Jewish settlement at Har Homa, known to Palestinians as Jabal Abu Ghneim, in south-east Jerusalem, has increased the Palestinian sense that they are losing any chance of ever establishing their capital in the city.

The Muslim religious authorities in Jerusalem said yesterday that they would not allow Mr Jamhour to be buried in a Muslim cemetery. Farid Bashiti, the first land dealer to die last month, was also forbidden burial. His family, who deny he sold land to Israelis, had to bury him secretly in Haifa in northern Israel. Frieh Abu Medein, the Palestinian Justice Minister, said: "The man was punished because Palestinians do not accept traitors."

Palestinian human rights organisations have appealed for the Palestinian Authority to stop the killings. Khader Shkeirat, head of the human rights group LAW, called "for the cancellation of the death penalty, and if there is any suspicion that somebody sold land to Israelis he should be tried in an open, civil court." However, there is little public sympathy for the land dealers. Ordinary Palestinians feel they have little land left and Israel prevents them buying land from Israelis.

n Israeli aircraft carried out rocket attacks in Lebanon yesterday after Hizbollah, the Lebanese guerrilla group, killed an Israeli officer in a mortar attack.

Lieutenant Yuval Nir, 22, was the tenth Israeli to be killed this year by the guerrillas, who have stepped up attacks in recent weeks. Israel had hoped that Hizbollah might be losing its effectiveness after a number of unsuccessful operations in which the guerrillas suffered losses.