Five Palestinians killed in West Bank raid

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The Independent Online

Undercover israeli soldiers shot dead five armed Palestinian militants yesterday after a gun battle in Jenin which security sources said had foiled an attack on the nearby Jewish settlement of Kadim.

Undercover israeli soldiers shot dead five armed Palestinian militants yesterday after a gun battle in Jenin which security sources said had foiled an attack on the nearby Jewish settlement of Kadim.

The operation was the deadliest raid in recent weeks by troops in the West Bank - as opposed to Gaza, where 14 Palestinians were killed in an incursion into two refugee camps last weekend.

The move came as Sylvan Shalom, the Israeli Foreign Minister was reported as estimating that a majority of cabinet ministers - which he said would include himself - might well oppose Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to withdraw from Gaza. Mr Shalom was reported to have told opponents of the plan that, at present, 10 ministers supported the plan and seven opposed it but he believed four more ministers would join the opponents who have strong support on the far right of Israeli politics and - apparently - in some senior sections of the Army. Mr Sharon's government is seeking international - including US - support for the plan.

According to Israeli sources, three of the men in Jenin were armed with M-16 assault rifles and another with an AK-47 and had been originally earmarked for arrest when their car was stopped by the troops in the eastern section of the town. The sources said the men were members of Tanzim, linked to Yasser Arafat's Fatah organisation, and were on their way to Kadim, one of several increasingly beleaguered settlements close to Jenin.

Despite growing signs that Mr Sharon is likely to hold his first talks with Ahmad Qureia since he became the Palestinian Prime Minister, Mr Qureia denied in Norway that any date had yet been fixed for the talks and said an arrangement for a face-to-face summit would await contacts between the offices of the two men. Mr Qureia has been reluctant to hold talks without the clear prospect of concessions emerging.

The developments came as it became clear Ariel Sharon's government was making some modifications to the planned route of the separation barrier in the West Bank. It now looks as if the barrier could be shorter by up to 110 miles. Some limited changes to the route had been expected but the Prime Minister's Office strongly denied that decisions had suddenly been taken to please US State Department officials who will arrive is Israel tomorrow. Officials said Mr Sharon had always made it clear to the defence ministry that changes would have to be made once the barrier was in operation.

Although, in some cases, the Attorney General has warned Israeli ministers that some disupted sections of the separation barrier would not be upheld by the Supreme Court, the changes will not eliminate one of the chief Palestinian grievances about the barrier, namely that - in places - it slices into and divides or isolates Arab land and villages.

At the same time, however, the government appears to be about to drop plans for a further "Eastern Fence". Dan Tirza, Mr Sharon's chief adviser on the barrier, said that the government had decided against putting up a fence in the Jordan Valley on the eastern section of the West Bank "because of the diplomatic damage" it would cause Israel.

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