Israel pulled troops out of West Bank town despite gunfire attack

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The Independent Online

Israel pulled tanks and troops out of the West Bank Palestinian town of Qalqilya, the military said, despite a Palestinian attack in Jerusalem that left two teen–agers dead, one a girl born in the United States.

Israel pulled tanks and troops out of the West Bank Palestinian town of Qalqilya, the military said, despite a Palestinian attack in Jerusalem that left two teen–agers dead, one a girl born in the United States.

The Israeli forces withdrew a few hundred meters (yards) to the edge of Palestinian–controlled territory and into Israel, the military said. Qalqilya is on the edge of the West Bank, next to Israel.

Palestinian witnesses said the withdrawal began with six Israeli tanks pulling back from the northern and southern entrances to the town, while tanks in other locations were preparing to leave.

Israel sent forces into parts of six West Bank towns the day after Palestinian militants assassinated ultranationalist Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi on Oct. 17. They withdrew from Bethlehem and nearby Beit Jalla a week ago.

The US government had demanded repeatedly that Israel pull its forces out of the towns six West Bank towns.

The United States is concerned that the increased Mideast tension could interfere with its effort to bring moderate Arab nations into its coalition to fight the Taliban regime and terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan.

Israeli officials had said Sunday that the pullback from Qalqilya would proceed despite the attack in Jerusalem. A Palestinian gunman opened fire on at a busy intersection, spraying an Israeli bus with automatic rifle fire before two police officers and a civilian shot him dead.

The attack took place at the intersection in front of French Hill, a Jewish neighborhood built on land Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war and annexed to Jerusalem. Passengers on the bus included students from an Orthodox Jewish girls school.

Shoshana Ben–Yishai, 16, was on her way home from school when she was shot in the head. She died on her way to a hospital where her mother works as a nurse.

Israeli media reported that Ben–Yishai had moved to Israel from Long Island, N.Y. when she was five years old and lived in Betar Illit, an ultra–Orthodox settlement in the West Bank. She was buried late Sunday in Jerusalem.

Photographs of Ben–Yishai's smiling face from a recent family event were printed on the front page of several Israeli newspapers Sunday. Friends and teachers told of a girl who loved school and didn't like to go out much.

"She always tried to help so that the other students would feel good, would smile," teacher Naama Toren told Israel Radio. "The girls in her class saw her as someone to emulate."

Israel Radio identified the other dead teen–ager as Menashe Regev, 14, from Jerusalem.

Police identified the attacker as Khatem Shweiki, 24, from the West Bank city of Hebron. Police said he belonged to the militant Islamic Jihad.

"He was standing there and shooting," Marcus, a West Bank settler, told Israel radio. "I got out of the car. I fired. I emptied an entire clip. He fell. Then two soldiers came and I showed them where he was and they shot him with their M–16 (assault rifles)."

Yasser Arafat's leadership issued a statement condemning the attack and ordering its security forces to arrest those responsible.

Following the pullback from Qalqilya, Israel still holds parts of three other Palestinian towns – Tulkarem, Jenin and Ramallah, the West Bank center of Arafat's Palestinian Authority, which governs the areas under Palestinian control.

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said Sunday that Israel would pull out of towns one by one as security agreements are reached with the Palestinians, who would work to prevent militants from leaving the towns to carry out attacks.

Peres said such agreements had been reached in Qalqilya, Bethlehem and Beit Jalla, where Israeli forces withdrew, and also Jericho and Hebron.

Despite the pullback from the three towns, the Israeli army did not release its overall grip on the West Bank, maintaining roadblocks that confined Palestinians to their towns and villages.

Israel has said the restrictions are necessary to prevent attacks by militants, but Palestinians charge that the measures are collective punishment and have strangled their economy during the yearlong conflict.

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