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The BBC's Paul Adams
"People here warn that Israel is making a grave mistake."
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The BBC's Jim Fish in Jerusalem
"It could lead to a sharp escalation of the conflict."
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Yarden Vatakai, Israeli defence forces spokesman
"The people who hit us should be aware that we will look for them and we will find them."
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Thursday, 9 November, 2000, 23:07 GMT
Three dead in Israeli 'assassination'
A Palestinian police officer runs from the wreck of Abayat's van
A Palestinian police officer runs from the wreck of Abayat's van
The Israeli army has killed a Palestinian militia leader in a helicopter missile attack which also killed two bystanders.

The attack was launched in the Palestinian-administered town of Beit Sahur in the West Bank, just hours before Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat met President Bill Clinton in Washington.

This is an assassination ordered by Barak... a cowardly aggression and a dangerous escalation

Fatah official Marwan Barghouti
It marks a significant change in Israeli tactics after six weeks of confrontations between Israel's regular troops and Palestinian protesters against Israeli occupation.

Thursday's target was 33-year-old Hussein Abayat, a local military leader of Mr Arafat's Fatah faction, whom Israel accused of attacks on its soldiers.

He was travelling in a van through a built-up area in broad daylight with several other Fatah officials.

Israeli activist sit-in outside Bethlehem
The Israeli army prevented Jewish activists from entering Bethlehem
Eyewitnesses heard aircraft in the sky and saw one of them fire a rocket, before the car carrying Mr Abayat jumped in the air.

Hospital officials said two Palestinian women who had also been walking along the road where the attack occurred died later of shrapnel wounds.

The Israeli army said Mr Abayat was suspected of being involved in at least six attacks on Israel soldiers in Beit Sahur and other villages around Bethlehem, in which three Israeli soldiers died.

It also said those in the vehicle were on their way to carry another ambush when they were attacked.

Fatah defiant

Spokesmen from Fatah, the faction founded by Yasser Arafat in 1960s and from which he draws his power, have vowed to respond violently to what they are calling an assassination.

"It is a cowardly aggression and a dangerous escalation," said Marwan Barghouti, a senior Fatah official in the West Bank. "This will not prevent Fatah from pursuing the uprising and Israel will be held responsible for any response."

Palestinian boy fires stones at Israeli forces at Karni crossing point in Gaza
Nine Palestinian youths have been shot in two days at Karni, Gaza
Six weeks of bloodshed have seen more than 180 lives lost - about 90% of them Palestinians - and left the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians in tatters.

Earlier in the day, tempers flared at an Israeli army checkpoint outside Bethlehem, as dozens of Jews were prevented from praying at the traditional site of the biblical matriarch Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem for their own safety.

The area has seen some of the most serious armed attacks on Israelis during the current crisis.

Meanwhile, at the Karni crossing point in Gaza, another young Palestinian stone-thrower was killed when Israeli soldiers opened fire on protesters.

Fourteen-year-old Mohammed Kamel Sharab, 14, died and some 25 others were wounded, ahead of the funerals of four Palestinians killed at the same place the day before.

Arafat still talking

Mr Arafat and Mr Clinton held a meeting in Washington at which the Palestinian leader tried to press his demand for an international force to protect civilians in the Palestinian territories - a move opposed by Israel.

Arafat departing from Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland
Mr Arafat faces a tough task persuading Bill Clinton to back a UN force
Mr Arafat said he told Mr Clinton he was committed to making peace, but described Thursday's helicopter attack as a "dangerous development".

US officials declined to condemn the killing of Mr Abayat until they know the facts.

"This is a serious matter, and we want to look into it," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.

Palestinian militant groups have urged Mr Arafat not resume "aimless negotiations with the enemy" Israel and to resist American pressure to suppress the uprising.

Mr Barak is expected to meet Mr Clinton on Sunday for separate talks.

Mr Clinton has apparently dismissed the idea of an international force, preferring instead to concentrate on the truce agreement forged last month in the Egyptian resort of Sharm El-Sheik.

"The president is focused on what he can do in the next few months to try to reduce the violence and resume a political process," national security adviser Sandy Berger said before the meeting.

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See also:

10 Nov 00 | Middle East
Israel's special operations
03 Nov 00 | Middle East
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The Israeli army's dilemma
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Text of the Palestinian 'understanding'
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Text of the Israeli 'understanding'
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Israel 'may be guilty of war crimes'
29 Oct 00 | Middle East
Fatah vows to fight on
17 Oct 00 | Middle East
Tanzim: Shock troops of the uprising
09 Nov 00 | Middle East
Israel's tactical questions
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