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Tuesday, 28 August, 2001, 22:09 GMT 23:09 UK
US calls on Israel to withdraw
Israeli troops in Beit Jala
The Israelis say they will remain as long as necessary
The United States has called on Israel to withdraw its forces from the West Bank town of Beit Jala.

A State Department spokesman said the Israelis had to understand that such incursions only made matters worse.

But Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Defence Minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer decided on Tuesday evening to keep troops in the town indefinitely.

"Israel needs to understand that incursions like this will not solve the security problems - they only make the situation worse

US State Department spokesman
The Israelis moved into Beit Jala on Monday night to stop what they said were Palestinians attacks on the nearby Jewish settlement of Gilo.

Also in the West Bank, thousands of Palestinians marched through the town of Ramallah for the funeral of the radical faction leader, Abu Ali Mustafa.

Mustafa, the head of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, was killed by the Israelis on Monday when they fired missiles at his office.

Revenge threats

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has said that the killing was "a crime aimed at the peace process". "This murder is an Israeli message to Arabs and the world," he said.

PFLP spokesman Maher Taher has called for attacks on American interests in revenge for the killing, saying that the "US participates with Israel in the extermination of Palestinian people".

In response, the US has called on the Syrian Government to prevent any retaliation.

"We're calling on the Syrian Government to exercise restraint over groups that it allows on Syrian territory... we hold the Syrians responsible for the safety and security of Americans in Syria," Mr Boucher said.

International condemnation

Israel's incursion into Beit Jala has met with widespread international condemnation.

US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said: "Israel needs to understand that incursions like this will not solve the security problems. They only make the situation worse."

He also called on the Palestinians to exercise restraint saying: "The Palestinians need to stop the shootings and attacks against Israelis in Gilo and elsewhere."

UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw described Israel's recent incursion into Beit Jala as "excessive and disproportionate".

He said: "The use of fighter aircraft in residential areas, the destruction of Palestinian Authority security buildings by missiles and assassinations of Palestinians can form no part of a meaningful strategy aimed at achieving peace."

Indefinite stay

Israel's hard-line policy was also criticised by Belgium, which holds the rotating presidency of the European Union.

But Israel is refusing to budge and has said that the army will be kept in the West Bank town until further notice.

Palestinian gunmen in Beit Jala
Palestinians retaliated as the Israelis took up their positions

"The Israeli army is ready to leave Beit Jala, but the shooting on Gilo must stop and international leaders must demand this of Yasser Arafat," a statement from the Foreign Ministry said.

Despite the Israeli presence in Beit Jala, Palestinian gunmen are reported to have again opened fire on Gilo on Tuesday.

Israeli troops in the town have taken up strategic positions in armoured vehicles and on roof tops - even moving into some apartment blocks.

"The Israeli soldiers took over all of the house and asked us to stay in one room, plus the bathroom and the kitchen. The soldiers pushed over the furniture and took over the top two floors of the house and put an army post on the rooftop," said local resident Bishara Kharufeh.

Palestinian protesters
Israel's move has caused widespread anger

There are reports that the Israeli army has also moved into the nearby Palestinian refugee camp of Aida in the West Bank city of Bethlehem.

Witnesses said that troops were escorted by bulldozers as they entered the camp.

Palestinian security sources also say that Israeli tanks have entered the Palestinian refugee camp of Deir el-Balah in the Gaza Strip, setting off heavy gunbattles.

The BBC's Caroline Hawley in Jerusalem
"So far Israel has rebuffed US advise"
Arab League legal affairs expert Bitu Bhalla
"The legal position is that Israel has no justification to enter Palestinian land"
Israeli Minister of Transportation, Ephraim Sneh
"We also wish to get out of there"
See also:

28 Aug 01 | Middle East
Thousands attend Mustafa funeral
28 Aug 01 | Middle East
In pictures: Mustafa funeral
28 Aug 01 | Middle East
Palestinian shock turns to outrage
28 Aug 01 | Media reports
Mid-East press condemns Mustafa killing
27 Aug 01 | Middle East
Israel kills key Palestinian leader
27 Aug 01 | Middle East
Abu Ali Mustafa: 'Right to struggle'
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