Israeli tanks blast police after killing of settlers

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The Independent Online

Four Palestinian security men and a civilian passer-by were killed by the Israeli army yesterday when its tanks fired missiles into a Palestinian police base near the West Bank town of Jenin, according to reports last night.

Four Palestinian security men and a civilian passer-by were killed by the Israeli army yesterday when its tanks fired missiles into a Palestinian police base near the West Bank town of Jenin, according to reports last night.

Hours earlier, two Jewish settlers were killed when Palestinian gunmen fired at a transit van near Hebron in a drive-by shooting. And on a settler bypass road near Jericho, an Israeli passenger was killed when Palestinians fired on a bus - the fourth serious attack on Israeli civilians in 24 hours.

By late afternoon 10 people had died in the bloodiest day for weeks, pushing the total number of deaths well over 300 since the end of September and sending tensions in the region spiralling.

Yesterday had been declared by Palestinian activists as a "day of rage" - as has today - to mark the anniversary of the start of the first intifada against Israeli occupation which began in 1987 and continued for almost six years. It was honoured in gruesome style by young Palestinians in Jerusalem after Israeli police shot and wounded a Palestinian in riots after Friday prayers at the al-Aqsa mosque compound in the Old City. His injuries left a pool of blood on the Via Dolorosa - the route which is revered as the road Christ took to his crucifixion. Youths dipped their hands in the blood, brandished them aloft and defiantly daubed the walls with hand prints.

Soon afterwards hundreds of angry settlers trooped past the Jerusalem residence of the Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, during the funeral of Rina Didovsky, 39, a school teacher. She was shot on her way to school yesterday morning in the drive-by attack near Hebron, when Palestinians in a passing car peppered her van near the entrance to the Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba.

There were scuffles between the settlers - who have for weeks been demanding that the Barak government order the Israeli army to take far harsher measures against the Palestinians - and left-wing Israeli activists. In a stark illustration of the deep rifts in Israeli public opinion, the latter are calling for the evacuation of all 200,000 Jewish settlers living in the occupied territories, in contravention of international law.

Mrs Didovsky's death - and that of the van driver, Eliyahu ben Ami, 41, a former policeman - underscored the strategy of Palestinian guerrillas to target Jewish settlers in the occupied territories as well as Israeli soldiers. Mr Barak vowed to avenge the "cowardly attacks", saying that it "will not break our spirit and our determined struggle against violence and terrorism".

Israeli tanks fired shells intermittently in the 10-week conflict but yesterday's attack in Jenin was the bloodiest. According to the Palestinian governor, Zuheir Manasra, Israeli troops fired missiles at a Palestinian National Security Force base in an area under the sole control of the Palestinian Authority, killing five. The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) said its tanks fired shells at them because they were in territory where - according to now widely ignored interim peace accords - Palestinians are forbidden to carry weapons.

Israeli troops killed two other Palestinians elsewhere. There was also fighting in Ramallah and Hebron, ending a brief lull of several days. "What happened today is a confirmation... that the uprising is continuing," said Marwan Barghouti, head of the Fatah movement in the West Bank.

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