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Saturday, 4 August, 2001, 16:01 GMT 17:01 UK
Palestinian leader survives attack
Marwan Barghouti with injured comrade Muhannad Halaweh
Barghouti's bodyguard was injured in the Israeli attack
A leading Palestinian activist in the West Bank, Marwan Barghouti, has narrowly escaped with his life after Israel launched a missile strike on a convoy of cars he was travelling in.

One of two missiles fired hit a bodyguard's car in front of Mr Barghouti, who heads Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement in Ramallah.

This is a new crime after the massacre at Nablus. It is clear this is all-out war

Marwan Barghouti
A shaken Mr Barghouti was immediately helped away from the scene by his bodyguards, witnesses said.

Palestinian officials said it was the latest in a series of Israeli attempts to assassinate prominent local activists and militants in the West Bank and Gaza.

The Israeli army made no immediate comment on the incident, but Israeli security sources quoted by Reuters said missiles had been fired at the convoy from the nearby Jewish settlement of Psagot.

The target was the car of Muhanad Abu Halaweh, a member of Mr Arafat's presidential bodyguard Force-17, the source said.

Car wreck in Ramallah
Passengers were able to leave the car before it was hit
Mr Barghouti later told Associated Press that he and his companions might have been killed, if the first missile had not given them time to run away from the car.

"This is a new crime after the massacre at Nablus," Mr Barghouti said, referring to a strike on Tuesday which killed eight Palestinians including two Islamic militant politicians and two young boys.

"It is clear this is all-out war. They are trying to silence the fires of the intifada. But our response will be to escalate the resistance."

Lucky escape

The cars had reached Mr Barghouti's offices in Ramallah when the first missile hit the road directly in front of the first car. The second missile scored a direct hit, reducing the car to a metal frame.

An eyewitness saw Mr Barghouti's entourage passed in front of his house just before the attack.

"Marwan came down the road in his jeep and waved at us, as soon as he got to the end of the road I saw a missile flying towards me," said Khalid Eisa.

Barghouti makes speech in Ramallah (December 2000)
Barghouti's popularity has grown in the latest Palestinian uprising
"We heard the second one and ran up to the house, people began shouting, that's all I remember," he added.

Hospital sources said say one of Mr Barghouti's aides sustained burns to the face and an elderly man who was walking nearby was also injured.

Marwan Barghouti's reputation as a hardline opponent of Israel's occupation in the West Bank and Gaza has grown since the beginning of the latest Palestinian intifada, or uprising.

He first emerged as a popular student leader during the first intifada between 1987 and 1992 and has been tipped by some commentators as a possible successor to Yasser Arafat.

The BBC's Jeremy Cooke
"Witnesses say the Israelis fired two shells"
The BBC's Paul Wood in Jerusalem
"There is a great deal of anger about what happened"
Marwan Barghouti
dismisses Israel's claims that he was not their target
See also:

04 Aug 01 | Middle East
Profile: Marwan Barghouti
04 Aug 01 | Middle East
White House denies Mid-East divisions
02 Dec 00 | Middle East
'Palestinian struggle will continue'
02 Aug 01 | Middle East
Israel 'foils suicide bombing'
31 Jul 01 | Middle East
Blasts kill Palestinian militants
01 Aug 01 | Middle East
Israel's undercover assassins
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