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Tuesday, 28 August, 2001, 06:22 GMT 07:22 UK
Israeli tanks enter Palestinian areas
Beit Jala
There was an exchange of fire in Beit Jala
Israeli tanks entered two Palestinian-controlled areas late on Monday, as the Arab world protested against the Israeli killing of a Palestinian leader.

Eight Israeli tanks entered the Rafah refugee camp in Gaza, where they were met by heavy Palestinian gunfire.


[Israel] does have a right to defend itself, but we think that both sides must also do everything in their power to avoid actions that make this current situation worse

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher
And two tanks moved into Beit Jala, after Palestinians fired at the neighbouring settlement of Gilo, which Israel considers a southern neighbourhood of Jerusalem.

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in the West Bank and Gaza City as well as in refugee camps in Lebanon, after the Israelis killed Abu Ali Mustafa, the head of the left-wing Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).

Large crowds are expected again later on Tuesday for Mustafa's funeral.

Also on Tuesday, Italian Foreign Minister Renato Ruggiero is due in the region for talks with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. He will meet Israeli leaders on Wednesday.

Policeman dead

A Palestinian policeman, Mohammed Sammour, 25, was killed and several other Palestinians were wounded in the clashes in Beit Jala.

Israeli tanks enter Beit Jala
The Israelis say they will remain in Beit Jala until Palestinian shooting stops

Over the past few months, there has been frequent shooting from Beit Jala at Gilo, and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had warned he would retaliate if the shooting resumed.

The Israeli army says it has now taken up position inside the Palestinian town, and that it will remain there until Palestinian shooting in the area stops.

"Following frequent shooting incidents from the town of Beit Jala at innocent Israeli civilians in Jerusalem... troops took control over commanding areas within Beit Jala... in order to prevent the shooting," an Israeli army statement said.

Israel Radio reported that troops took up positions in at least five houses in the town.

In Rafah, the army also sent in bulldozers and armoured vehicles, in addition to tanks.

Before pulling out again, it demolished at least 10 buildings it said were used by Palestinian snipers and arms smugglers.

Eight people, including two Palestinian women, were reported to have been wounded in the clashes.

Condemnation

The attack against Mustafa was condemned by Iran, Jordan and the Secretary General of the Arab League, while Mr Arafat declared three days of mourning.

Ali Abu Mustafa
Mustafa took over the PFLP last year

The United States also condemned the attack in terms observers called unusually strong terms.

"If the situation on the ground is to improve, then Israel must also take the economic and security steps that are necessary to alleviate the pressure, the hardship and the humiliations of the Palestinian population," said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher.

Jordan described the attack as "a horrible crime", while the Arab League's Secretary General, Amr Moussa, accused Israel of "mafia politics".

Revenge

Several Palestinian groups threatened revenge, and within hours, a Jewish settler was shot dead in a roadside ambush in the northern West Bank in what the PFLP said was a reprisal.

The PFLP has now called for attacks on American interests in response.

Mustafa was killed when two rockets fired from helicopter gunships struck him while he was at his desk in his office in the West Bank town of Ramallah, not far from the offices of Mr Arafat.

Abu Ali Mustafa - whose real name was Mustafa al-Zibri - is the most senior official of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) killed by Israel since 1988, when Israeli commandoes shot dead the organisation's military leader, Abu Jihad.

'Legitimate target'

Israel said he was a legitimate target because he had been planning car bombs.

Israel has a policy of killing Palestinians it believes have carried out attacks on Israel, which is calls "active defence" or "targeted killings".

Palestinians condemn the killings as assassinations and say more than 60 people have been killed in such attacks.

The policy has also attracted widespread international criticism.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
BBC's Middle East Correspondent Caroline Hawley
"Palestinian authorities accuse Israelis of crossing all red lines"
Avi Pazner, spokesman for the Israeli Prime Minister
"All we want to do is restore security"
Hesham Youseff, advisor to the Arab League
"We are addressing the deteriorating situation"
See also:

27 Aug 01 | Middle East
Israel kills key Palestinian leader
27 Aug 01 | Middle East
Abu Ali Mustafa: 'Right to struggle'
08 Jul 00 | Middle East
Palestinian hardliners elect new head
28 Apr 00 | Middle East
Palestinian leader resigns
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