Israel gives soldiers increased powers to use live ammunition

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The Independent Online

Israel relaxed its rules of engagement on Tuesday to allow its soldiers to use live ammunition "to defend themselves" against what the army claimed was increasing Palestinian violence.

The changes, set out in an army statement, give soldiers a freer hand to fire live rounds in confrontations with Palestinians. Regulations restricting the use of live rounds to cases in which Palestinian gunmen shot first were part of a truce mapped out by US CIA chief George Tenet after the ceasefire agreed on 22 May.

A senior Palestinian official said there could be no real change in Israel's army regulations as they had never stopped killing Palestinians in 10 months of bloodshed. The changes were announced hours after the Palestinian Authority appealed to the United States to intervene.

President George Bush insisted his administration remained involved and reiterated both sides must embrace a peace blueprint drawn up by a US-led panel.

At the United Nations in New York, a dispute with Israel continued over access to evidence related to the kidnapping in October last year of three Israeli soldiers by Hizbollah guerrillas on the Lebanese frontier, patrolled by the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon. The UN finally admitting to having video tapes.

Meanwhile, in the latest violence in the West Bank, a suspected Palestinian gunmen killed an Israeli Arab driving near the Jewish settlement of Tzofim. In the Gaza Strip, Israeli troops opened fire at stone-throwing Palestinian demonstrators. Israeli troops in the West Bank were targeted with at least two explosive devices, but no troops were injured.

In Amman a 51-year-old Israeli businessman was gunned down near his house on Monday night, raising fears the violence was spreading to other countries. However, Jordanian officials said the killing might have been criminal in nature.

In Damascus an aide to Yasser Arafat had talks with Israel's enemy Syria, which is strengthening its ties with the Palestinian leadership. Meanwhile, Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa called for immediate international efforts to stop Israel's "assassination" of Palestinians.