One dead and 20 hurt in tank raid on Ramallah

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The Independent Online

Israelis and Palestinians continued killing and maiming each other in the West Bank and Gaza Strip over the weekend, leaving at least four Palestinians and one Israeli dead.

Israeli tanks, backed by helicopters, rampaged in Ramallah for four hours yesterday, killing a Palestinian intelligence officer and wounding 12 others before withdrawing.

Arab sources claimed the Israelis had tried to seize the Palestinian television and radio stations there, but an army spokesman denied they had been a target of an incursion about 500 metres into Palestinian-controlled territory. The Palestinians celebrated their exit as a victory. Marwan Barghouti, the local commander of Yasser Arafat's Tanzim militia, vowed to drive Israel out of all the occupied areas.

The invaders fired missiles at bases of Mr Arafat's Force 17 presidential guard and military intelligence in retaliation for a late-night ambush on a road north of Jerusalem, in which a Jewish civilian was shot dead and his passenger wounded. The road is within Jerusalem's expanded boundaries, but on land captured from Jordan in the 1967 war. Their assailants fled towards Ramallah.

South of Jerusalem, Israeli tanks fired shells into Beit Sahour, the "Shepherds' Field" village below Bethlehem. Palestinian witnesses reported that an ambulanceman aged 21 was killed while evacuating wounded people from a café that had received a direct hit. Israel said the troops had opened fire after Palestinian snipers shot at an army checkpoint in the new Har Homa settlement, known as Jebel Abu Ghneim to Arabs.

Israel seems to be responding more vigorously to Palestinian attacks. With world attention focused elsewhere, Ariel Sharon's government has fewer inhibitions about sending in the tanks.

In the Gaza Strip, two other Palestinians, including a boy of 14, were killed in clashes with Israeli troops on Saturday. Israeli helicopters fired missiles at a military intelligence headquarters in Gaza City, then land forces fired missiles at Palestinian forces in the Nuseirat refugee camp and a police station in Rafah. The Palestinians reported eight policemen and a girl wounded.

The boy, from Nuseirat, was shot dead later while throwing stones at Israeli soldiers. In another clash, a Palestinian said to have thrown a grenade at Israeli border guards was shot dead at the Karni crossing.

On the diplomatic front, Mr Sharon vetoed a proposed meeting yesterday between his Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres, and Mr Arafat. The Prime Minister rejected a request from President George Bush to allow the dialogue to go ahead. The Americans hoped the talks would help to calm emotions and thus make it easier for Arab states to join the anti-terrorism coalition.

Mr Sharon is reported to have told Mr Bush that "a coalition against terrorism must fight every kind of terrorism, including Arafat's".

He reiterated that the Palestinian leader was "Israel's Osama bin Laden". Addressing a special session of Israel's parliament, Mr Sharon insisted that Mr Peres would meet Mr Arafat only after a 48-hour period of quiet. The meeting would be designed to seek a ceasefire as a condition for reviving the peace process.

In a series of tense tête-à-tête meetings, Mr Peres disputed the Prime Minister's veto. At one stage, the veteran Labour leader threatened to resign from the government. Mr Peres told Israel radio yesterday: "Why must we be the party that refuses to talk? If we meet and Arafat does nothing to stop the violence, the blame will fall on him."

Behind the Sharon-Peres differences lies widespread concern that Mr Bush's coalition will be directed against "global" terror, but will ignore (and even sanction) what Israelis regard as terrorism directed against their citizens by Palestinian militants.

Oded Granot, a Middle East affairs analyst, said in Ma'ariv that before being allowed into the "good guys' club", Mr Arafat must issue "an unequivocal and irreversible order to the organisations directly responsible to him, and to the Hamas and Islamic Jihad, who send out suicide bombers, to put out the fires".

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