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The Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, acted to defuse the explosive situation created in West Bank cities by the death of one Palestinian prisoner tortured by Palestinian police and the fatal shooting of a second man by Palestinian security forces quelling a riot.

A Jericho court sentenced two officers and a sergeant, who beat Mahmoud Jamaiel to death in a Nablus lock-up, to 15 and 10 years' hard labour. Mr Jamaiel, who had been held for seven months without charge, died from cardiac arrest brought on by a fractured skull. Mr Arafat yesterday ordered the release of 15 Hamas prisoners in Tulkarm, where security men fired on a mob on Friday, killing Ibrahim Hadayeh, a Hamas activist. Islamic militants responded by calling for a new intifada against the Palestinian Authority and the Israelis.