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Thursday, 30 August, 2001, 11:25 GMT 12:25 UK
Israeli troops leave Beit Jala
An Israeli soldier boards his tank parked on a road after pulling out of Beit Jala
The soldiers are ready to return if shooting resumes
Israeli forces have pulled out of the Palestinian town of Beit Jala, two days after entering it to stop gunmen firing at a nearby Jewish settlement.

Witnesses said Israeli tanks and armoured personnel carriers left the West Bank town about five hours after exchanges of gunfire stopped there.

He told my brother to make him an omelette. My brother entered the kitchen. Someone murdered him and ran away

Nahalin restaurant owner
An Israeli military spokesman said that no Palestinian attacks had been launched during the night - the key condition for an Israeli pull-out.

But violence erupted elsewhere in the West Bank on Thursday.

Palestinian gunmen shot dead an Israeli civilian at a Palestinian restaurant in the village of Nahalin, near Ramallah.

Munir Amira, a member of the family that owns the restaurant, said the 60-year-old man came to the village every morning and had loaned them the money to open the restaurant.

Palestinian gunmen in Beit Jala
Palestinian sniper fire provoked the Israeli incursion
"He told my brother to make him an omelette. My brother entered the kitchen. Someone murdered him and ran away," Mr Amira told Israel Radio.

Meanwhile, reports from the divided town of Hebron spoke of a heavy exchange of fire following the funeral of Abud Dabassi, a Palestinian officer killed in clashes on Wednesday.

The Associated Press news agency said Palestinians opened fire on Israeli troops, and it quoted witnesses as saying an Israeli tank had driven into Palestinian-controlled territory.

The Israeli army said the tank fired a shell, but denied that it had it entered a Palestinian neighbourhood.

Israeli warning

Beit Jala residents gathered in the streets to celebrate the Israeli pull-out, firing guns into the air and cheering, but the Israelis warned that their troops were ready to roll back in immediately if sniper attacks resumed.

The BBC Jersualem correspondent, Simon Ingram, says the Israeli withdrawal may have eased the sense of impending disaster in Beit Jala, but the sense of anger and frustration among Palestinians in general is far from spent.

He says there is a general expectation of further attacks to avenge Israel's assassination of Abu Ali Mustafa, the head of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - a faction of the PLO.

Also on Thursday, Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon said they had fired at Israeli warplanes over south Lebanon.

The group said they acted in response to Israel's "violation of Lebanese airspace."

Israeli troops have been placed on high alert along the border with Lebanon.

Military sources say the army has taken extra precautions to guard against an attempted suicide bombing in northern Israel, following Palestinian calls for revenge for Mustafa's death.

US criticism

Israel sent troops and tanks into Beit Jala early on Tuesday to try to stop Palestinian gunmen shooting at Gilo, a settlement which Israelis regard as a Jewish neighbourhood of Jerusalem.

But the United States strongly criticised Israel's incursion, saying it might be in breach of international agreements.

It was Israel's longest-lasting incursion into a Palestinian-administered area since the Palestinian uprising began last September.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell appealed to both sides on Wednesday to try to restore calm. He discussed the situation by phone with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres.

Criticising Israel's decision to send its forces into Beit Jala, the US said there was "a fundamental issue here, and that's trying to reverse agreements and understandings that have been made in the past".

Israeli Defence Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said Israel had no plans to reoccupy Beit Jala but if Palestinian attacks on Gilo resumed, Israel would "absolutely" move back into the town.

Mr Sharon said two weeks ago Israel would send troops into Beit Jala if attacks on Gilo continued.

The BBC's Caroline Hawley
"The Israeli incursion sparked strong Palestinian resistance"
Raanan Gissin, Israeli Government Spokesman
"We withdrew under our own cognisance"
Ziad Abu-Zayyad, Palestinian minister for Jerusalem
"We are ready for a ceasefire"
Miguel Angel Moratinos, the EU's Middle East envoy
explains his role in the Beit Jala negotiations, and what led to their success
See also:

30 Aug 01 | Middle East
Beit Jala: Winners and losers
29 Aug 01 | Middle East
Israel to leave Palestinian town
28 Aug 01 | Middle East
US calls on Israel to withdraw
16 Aug 01 | Middle East
Spotlight: Why is Gilo so important?
28 Aug 01 | Middle East
Thousands attend Mustafa funeral
28 Aug 01 | Middle East
Palestinian shock turns to outrage
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