Three soldiers die in West Bank attacks

JERUSALEM - The last day of a Middle East peace mission by Warren Christopher, the US Secretary of State, was marked yesterday by the killing of three Israeli soldiers in the occupied West Bank, writes Sarah Helm. One soldier was killed after he was kidnapped near Jerusalem and the other two died in a gunbattle in which a Palestinian gunman was also shot dead near the town of Tulkarm.

The Israeli government said it was determined not to let the deaths cloud the positive results which, it says, have emerged from Mr Christopher's visit. However, three soldiers in 24 hours is a high death count for the occupied territories, which have been relatively calm in recent weeks, and will be hard for Yitzhak Rabin, the Prime Minister, to ignore.

There is no doubt that the attacks were deliberately timed to demonstrate resistance by militant groups to the peace process. Islamic Jihad, probably the most extreme Islamic group, may have been responsible for the kidnap killing, although this had not been confirmed last night. Mordechai Gur, the Deputy Defence Minister, said it was possible that some Palestinian groups had been stirred into action, surprised by the 'intensity and effect of our operation in Lebanon' - referring to last week's seven- day Israeli bombardment.

The first killing was particularly 'daring', as Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, an Israeli cabinet minister, admitted yesterday. Private Yaron Chen, 20, was hitch-hiking near Arab east Jerusalem, apparently on his way home from an army base, when he was picked up by a van with Israeli number plates. His body was later found in a burnt- out vehicle in a West Bank village.

(Photograph omitted)