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Sunday, 17 November, 2002, 22:36 GMT
Israel to extend control over Hebron
Ariel Sharon (centre) with military officials overlooking Hebron
Ariel Sharon is under pressure to act
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has proposed placing more of the West Bank city of Hebron under Israeli control, following an ambush which claimed 12 Israeli lives and left three Palestinian attackers dead on Friday.

During a visit to Hebron on Sunday, Mr Sharon said there should be "territorial continuity" between Jewish areas of Hebron and a nearby Jewish settlement.

The city has long been a flashpoint - some 450 Jewish settlers live there, among a population of 130,000 Palestinians.

In another development, an Israeli armoured column backed by helicopter gunships advanced into Gaza City late on Sunday, and surrounded a training base of the Palestinian security forces.

The attack occurred in the Tel al Awar neighbourhood. There was no immediate report of casualties.

Mr Sharon visited Hebron with Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz. The number of Israeli troops in Hebron has already been substantially increased.

Mr Sharon was quoted by Israeli radio as saying there should be continuity between Jewish enclaves in central Hebron and the Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba, which was the target of Friday night's attack.

Jewish settlers are reported to have already set up a tented settlement at the scene of the ambush, and have called on the army to let them stay after a seven-day mourning period.

The BBC's James Rodgers in Jerusalem says the aim of Mr Sharon's plan is to protect the settlers - but, he adds, there is a risk of further enraging the Palestinians.

Troops have taken control of strategic buildings, and destroyed several other homes and an olive grove in which the gunmen are said to have hidden.

Bloody ambush

The heavy casualties on Friday have triggered questions in Israel about the army's handling of the situation.

About 450 Jewish settlers live alongside 130,000 Palestinians
Divided into Israeli and Palestinian-controlled sectors under an interim peace deal in 1997
Frequent scene of violent clashes

An army colonel was among the 12 dead, the highest-ranking officer to die since the Palestinian uprising against Israeli rule began in September 2000.

The attack began when shots were fired at a column of settlers and their border police guards as they walked from Hebron's Tomb of the Patriarchs to Kiryat Arba after prayers to mark the start of Sabbath.

Troops and armed settlers returned fire and gave chase into a narrow alley, where they were cut down in an ambush.

Under pressure

Earlier on Sunday, Israeli helicopters carried out a raid on Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip, destroying a metal workshop which the army said had been used to manufacture weapons.

Jewish settler carries blood-stained stretcher
The attack in Hebron was one of the bloodiest for months

Mr Sharon is under pressure to step up military action in the Palestinian territories, with security at the top of the agenda in the run-up to snap elections in January 2003.

Foreign Minister Binyamin Netanyahu - who is vying for the leadership of the Likud party with Mr Sharon - told Israel Radio that he believed the peace deals with the Palestinians were now dead.

Changes in the administrative status of Hebron would mean re-writing a US-brokered deal signed by Mr Netanyahu himself when he was prime minister.

The 1997 Hebron Protocol split the city between Palestinian rule in one part of it and Israeli rule in the remaining 20%, to guarantee the security of settlers living in Jewish enclaves.

Mr Netanyahu said on Sunday: "All the accords agreed by Israel have been annulled by [Palestinian leader Yasser] Arafat. I have always believed that the application of the accords required reciprocity."

Israel blames Mr Arafat for failing to prevent Palestinian militant attacks.

The BBC's James Rodgers in Jerusalem
"The Palestinians continue to insist that talk is the only way forward"

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17 Nov 02 | Middle East
16 Nov 02 | Middle East
16 Nov 02 | Middle East
03 Dec 01 | issues
15 Nov 02 | Middle East
09 Nov 02 | Middle East
16 Nov 02 | profiles
17 Nov 02 | Media reports
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