Israeli settler shot dead

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A female Jewish settler was shot dead by Palestinians yesterday in a West Bank village close to the scene of a new Arab protest over Israeli land seizures.

Gunmen opened fire on a car at the village of Jifna, just north of Ramallah, as it headed north through the centre of the West Bank. A woman in a passenger seat was killed; the driver, a man, was wounded.

The killing comes at the end of a bloody week in the occupied territories during which 10 Palestinians have been killed by Israelis, and conflict has flared over land confiscation and settlement expansions. Tension has been particularly high in the area of yesterday's shooting. Palestinians from the towns of Ramallah and al Bireh have been protesting over Israeli plans to confiscate more than 1,000 acres of land to build a by-pass road around Ramallah for use by settlers wishing to traverse the West Bank without entering Palestinian towns.

Palestinians in the area have also been angered by the killing of four Arab men on Tuesday by an Israeli undercover unit at the village of Bayt Liqya, which is also close to the scene of yesterday's attack.

The Jewish woman killed yesterday was driving in an Arab populated area to reach her settlement of Elon Moreh in the north. Rather than remove settlers from the West Bank, the Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, is proposing to try to "separate" them from the existing Arab population, by consolidating the Jewish enclaves and constructing by-pass roads for settlers around Arab towns.

However, as land seizure has stepped up in order to build the infrastructure for this "separation", Palestinians have become increasingly angered. Israeli-Palestinian talks aimed at finding a formula on the issue of extending self-rule to the West Bank appear to have been badly set back by the week's events, and there is not even a target date for the start of the next phase. The likelihood is that the Israeli government will use the attacks on the settlers as a reason to delay the implementation of self-rule.

The deteriorating security situation in the occupied territories has further damaged Mr Rabin's standing with his own voters. Polls in yesterday's Hebrew papers showed that 25 per cent of those questioned would vote for the Likud leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, who favours maintaining all settlements, if elections were held today, while only 23 per cent would choose Mr Rabin.

Opinion polls show a very high degree of support for the expansion of settlements in the West Bank. According to one survey, 47 per cent of 504 Israelis questioned supported unrestricted expansion of Jewish settlement, while 51 per cent thought construction should be either frozen or limited.