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Thursday, 19 July, 2001, 23:54 GMT 00:54 UK
Palestinians killed 'in settler attack'
Grieving relatives of the victims
Relatives of the victims in a Hebron hospital
Three Palestinians, one of them a baby, have been shot dead just south of the West Bank city of Hebron in an attack apparently carried out by Jewish settlers.

Eyewitnesses saw a gunman fire at a Palestinian car, killing three members of the same family, and injuring four others returning with them from a wedding.

Previously unknown extremists, calling themselves "The Committee for Security on the Roads", have said they carried out the killings, a claim which if confirmed would make this the most serious attack by settlers since the Palestinian uprising began last September.

The shooting came only hours after the US explicitly approved for the first time the deployment of international observers to help end the violence.

The three dead were identified as Mohammed Salameh Etnizi, 22, Mohammed Hilmy Etnizi, 20, and three-month-old Wael Etnizi, all from Idna.

The last is thought to be the youngest person killed in 10 months of violence which have claimed the lives of at least 489 Palestinians, 128 Israelis and 13 Israeli Arabs.

Israel condemns attack

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon swiftly condemned the attack and said he would "do everything possible to apprehend those responsible" - a promise met with scepticism by Palestinians.

"I'll believe it when I see it," one senior official, Hanan Ashrawi, told the BBC.

A relative of one of the shooting victims at the hospital in Hebron
The victims of the attack are all members of one family
Jewish settlers, living on land occupied by Israel in the 1967 war, have been frequent targets of Palestinian attacks on West Bank and Gaza roads since the fighting started.

But Mrs Ashrawi rejected the suggestion that the latest attack was an act of retaliation.

She said the settlers had always acted like vigilantes and that it was imperative to send international monitors to protect the Palestinians.

A relative of the dead, Akram Etnizi, said he was in a nearby vehicle when "one settler stepped up to the car and started shooting, and then drove away".

Israel 'entirely responsible'

Israeli police spokesman Rafi Yaffe, however, said shots had been fired at the Palestinian vehicle from another car, which then fled the scene.

The Palestinian Authority said it held Israel "entirely responsible" for the attack.

Until now it has been Israel which has consistently accused the Palestinian leadership of being responsible for the actions of militants.

Settler leaders gave a qualified condemnation of the shooting: "If it becomes evident that the deadly attack tonight was carried out by an Israeli, then Yesha [the settler umbrella organisation] strongly condemns this criminal act."

Earlier in the day, in another move likely to increase tensions, Yesha rabbis overturned a religious ban on visits to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. They called on rabbis to bring their communities to visit it, while urging the Israeli public to do the same.

US backs call for monitors

Foreign ministers of the G8 countries, which include the United States, have said they back the deployment of outside monitors to help end Israeli-Palestinian violence.

Third-party monitoring accepted by both parties would serve their interests in implementing the Mitchell Report

G8 statement
US Secretary of State Colin Powell gave his approval to a joint statement issued by the G8 countries - the major Western industrialised nations plus Russia - which supports the deployment of foreign observers.

The deployment of monitors is a long standing demand of the Palestinians, but one that Israel has consistently rejected.

The G8 statement made it clear the monitors would have to be approved by both Israel and the Palestinians.

"We believe that in these circumstances, third-party monitoring accepted by both parties would serve their interests in implementing the Mitchell Report," the statement said.

The BBC's Paul Wood
"The Palestinian vehicle was reportedly coming back from a wedding"
Hanan Ashrawi
"I wouldn't call it an act of retaliation at all"
See also:

16 Jul 01 | Middle East
Hebron: City of strife
27 Jun 01 | Middle East
Arabs want US to push Israel
25 Jun 01 | Middle East
Greater Mid-East role urged for Europe
12 Jun 01 | Middle East
Hardliners disapprove of ceasefire plan
18 Jun 01 | Middle East
Analysis: Annan's Middle East progress
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