Israeli Arab woman in suicide mission

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An Arab woman believed to be a suicide bomber with Israeli citizenship blew herself up at a roadblock in the West Bank last night, witnesses said.

An Israeli border policeman was wounded, as were two Palestinians who were reportedly shot by soldiers when they got out of her car.

It is extremely rare for women, let alone an Israeli Arab woman, to take part in attacks against Israel.

Earlier yesterday, Israeli soldiers shot three armed Arabs who had crossed into southern Israel from Egypt, and a Palestinian shot and killed his Israeli employer at a factory north of Jerusalem.

Israel's relations with its Arab minority came under renewed pressure yesterday when the trial began in Nazareth of the country's most prominent Arab parliamentarians. International civil rights organisations rallied to the support of Azmi Bishara, the first member of Israel's Knesset to go on trial for making political statements in the 54-year history of the state.

The trial of Mr Bishara, who is accused of incitement for praising Hizbollah guerrillas and encouraging Palestinians to resist Israeli occupation, comes at a time when relations between Israel's 6.4 million Jews and 1.2 million Arabs are close to breaking point. He faces up to three years in prison, if found guilty.

Supporters waving placards greeted the arrival of Mr Bishara at the courthouse for the opening of the trial amid heavy security. Some waved Palestinian flags; a delegation from the occupied Golan Heights brandished the Syrian colours. Some sang nationalist songs.

Mr Bishara, whose trial is being observed by the European, Norwegian and Swedish parliaments and the International Federation of Human Rights Organisations, denied wrongdoing. He is one of 12 Arabs in Israel's 120-member Knesset, which voted in November to lift his immunity from prosecution.

He argues that he is committed to the Palestinians' right to overthrow Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, but he has never called for the use of force.

Meanwhile, Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia met the EU envoy Javier Solana and said he planned to press ahead with his land-for-peace offer to end the conflict. Its adoption by an Arab summit next month would be his first target, he said.