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The BBC's Stephen Gibbs
"No goods at all are being allowed across the borders"
 real 56k

The BBC's Orla Guerin on the West Bank
"Palestinians say that four children have been shot dead by Israeli troops in the past seven days"
 real 56k

Yossi Beilin, a minister in the Barak government
"There is a need for a third party to help them"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 24 April, 2001, 22:17 GMT 23:17 UK
Israel tightens blockade
Palestinian refugees queue for flour vouchers in Gaza
The Palestinian economy is crippled by Israeli measures
Israel has imposed a total blockade on the Gaza Strip and West Bank to coincide with its independence anniversary celebrations.

The closure, which took effect on Tuesday night, will be lifted at 0200 on Friday (2300 GMT Thursday), an Israeli military spokesman said.

Israel fears that Palestinian militants could take advantage of the anniversary to launch attacks.

Earlier Israel had said it would lift its blockade of the West Bank town of Jericho, following security talks with Palestinian officials mediated by the United States.

Palestinian deaths

A second Palestinian man was reported to have been killed on Tuesday in the West Bank town of Qalqilyah.

Palestinian refugee in Gaza Strip
Palestinians see the blockade as collective punishment

Palestinian radio said Iyyad Muhammad Tahsin, 27, was shot in the heart and others were wounded when Israeli soldiers opened fire on a group of Palestinians in the south of the town.

Earlier a Palestinian man was shot dead by Israeli troops in the northern Gaza Strip near the border with Israel, Palestinian medical and security sources said.

Israeli holiday

The tighter security began as Israel launched its national Memorial Day for fallen soldiers, to be followed by Independence Day celebrations which will end late on Thursday.

Israel imposed severe restrictions on movement of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza after the current wave of violence erupted last September, with severe economic consequences.

The Israeli army said Palestinians fired more mortars at Israeli targets on Tuesday - a charge denied by the Palestinian authorities.

The three mortar shells, aimed at a Jewish settlement in the Gaza Strip, did not cause any injuries, the army said.

The Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, has ordered an end to mortar attacks, which in recent weeks have led to strong Israeli reprisals.

Jericho

The Israeli Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres, said on Tuesday Israel had decided to "lift the sanctions around Jericho after the Palestinians... guaranteed that security would be restored in that sector".

Shimon Peres
Peres: Due in Washington next week

However, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said he knew nothing about any Israeli decision on Jericho.

"On the ground what we see is a tightening of the closure. We need to see a genuine Israel commitment to... lifting the siege and the closure within 48 hours," Mr Erekat said.

Further meetings between local commanders on the ground have been scheduled for later this week.

Mr Peres is due to hold two days of talks with US Secretary of State Colin Powell and other members of the Bush administration beginning on 4 May.

During his meetings he is expected to seek a clarification of the American position, following recent US criticism of Israel's actions, as well as explaining his own country's policy.

Policeman detained

Meanwhile, Israel said a Palestinian policeman had been arrested in connection with the killing of two Israeli soldiers in a police station in the West Bank city of Ramallah last October.

A statement from Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's office said 29-year-old Khalil Shawamra was arrested near Ramallah.

"He was one of the leaders of the militants who took part in the lynching," the statement said.

Mr Shawamra is suspected of detaining the two soldiers, then taking them back to the police station where they were lynched by a Palestinian mob.

The killings, last October, provoked outrage within Israel.

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See also:

23 Apr 01 | Middle East
Palestinian boy shot dead
24 Apr 01 | Middle East
Iran conference to support Intifada
22 Apr 01 | Middle East
Mid-East deadlock continues
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