Vigilantes kill three suspected Palestinian informers

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Palestinian vigilantes killed three suspected informers today in revenge for the death of a militia leader who was killed in a targeted Israeli helicopter attack.

Meanwhile a first round of negotiations was held in biblical Bethlehem to resolve the three–week standoff at the Church of the Nativity.

In Hebron, hundreds of bystanders, including children, gathered around the three gagged and bound victims, who each had been shot in the head. One body was strung up on an electricity pylon, and bystanders kicked and spat at the other two.

The killings came only a day after militiamen in the town of Ramallah fired on three alleged informers in a crowded downtown square, killing one and wounding two.

In Bethlehem, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met at a tourism centre in Manger Square for a first round of negotiations since some 230 armed Palestinians forced their way into the Church of the Nativity on 2 April to seek cover from advancing Israeli troops. Several dozen clergy and Palestinian civilians are also in the compound.

Israel has offered the wanted men among those in the church exile or trial in Israel, a proposal the Palestinians have rejected.

Among the Palestinian negotiators were Bethlehem Mayor Hanna Nasser and Tourism Minister Mitri Abu Aita. The composition of the Israeli delegation was not immediately known. Canon Andrew White, the Archbishop of Canterbury's envoy, also participated in the session.

Earlier today, Israeli forces raided several West Bank villages and arrested 26 Palestinians suspected of involvement in terror attacks.

In Hebron, an Israeli helicopter fired missiles at a car late Monday, killing Marwan Zalloum, the commander of the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade militia in Hebron. Zalloum's bodyguard was also killed in the attack.

The Israeli military said Zalloum was responsible for dozens of attacks, including a suicide bombing in Jerusalem that killed four Israelis and two Chinese workers, as well as a shooting attack on a Jewish settlers' enclave in Hebron in which a baby girl was killed last year.

Gunmen in Hebron shot thye suspected collaborators to avenge Zalloum's death. "The fate of all collaborators will be like this," said a masked militiaman, wearing a headband of the Al Aqsa Brigades, before he and six others sped away.

A large crowd, including children, gathered at the scene. Some of the bystanders took one of the bloodied victims and strung him, head down, on a pylon. One boy climbed up on the pylon to help with the hanging.