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Sunday, 14 October, 2001, 22:18 GMT 23:18 UK
Israel kills Hamas militant
Palestinian mourners carry body of Abdul Rahman Hamad
Hamas has vowed "painful" revenge for the killing
Israel has admitted that its troops shot dead a prominent member of the militant Islamic group Hamas, Abdul Rahman Hamad, in the West Bank town of Qalqilya.

Qalqilya's governor, Mustafa Malki, said Hamad was killed by two bullets to the chest as he stood on the flat roof of his house on Sunday.

We will exercise our right to self-defence just as the United States is doing in Afghanistan

Israeli spokesman Raanan Gissin
Hamad's funeral procession took place as Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat left for London, where he is due to discuss the regional peace process with UK Prime Minister Tony Blair on Monday.

Palestinians have accused Israel of instigating violence to undermine Mr Arafat's visit, which they see as a step towards a White House invitation to the Palestinian leader.

'Not first, not last'

But Israel insists that its policy of targeting militants it says are involved in attacks on Israeli civilians is a legitimate act of self defence.

"This is not the first and not the last," Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said of the killing. "We made our stance clear regarding this issue and our stance is clear and that is how we will act."

Earlier, Mr Sharon's office issued a statement, saying Hamad, 35, had been responsible for directing the suicide attack at a Tel Aviv disco in June, which killed 22 people.

This is a crime and means the Israeli promises for calm are mere lies and we cannot trust them

Yasser Abed Rabbo
Palestinian minister
"If we see no measures are taken against these terrorists and there are casualties... we will exercise our right to self-defence just as the United States is doing in Afghanistan," said Mr Sharon's spokesman, Raanan Gissin.

Thousands of Palestinians attended Hamad's funeral in Qalqilya - some firing assault rifles into the air and calling for revenge.

In spite of the day's violence, the warring parties continued to talk.

Palestinian, Israeli and US officials met in the Tel Aviv area for high-level talks to discuss ways to strengthen the fragile truce and pave the way to future talks, Palestinian officials said.

And in the West Bank city of Hebron, security chiefs from both sides met to discuss Israel's withdrawal from areas of the city it had reoccupied after Palestinians there fired at Jewish settlers.

Promises and lies

Remarking on the killing of Hamad, Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo told Voice of Palestine radio: "This is a crime and means the Israeli promises for calm are mere lies and we cannot trust them."

"Our people must make sure that they are at maximum alert. They must not pay attention to the promises of the Israeli Government, but rather see its actions on the ground," he said.

A BBC correspondent in Jerusalem says this attack is a revival of Israel's policy of targeting suspected militants it says are involved in attacks on Israelis.

It is the first targeted killing carried out by Israel in about six weeks.

Hamas has not acknowledged the ceasefire, and has carried out several attacks in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in recent weeks.

It has now vowed to retaliate for Hamad's death.

"Israel will pay a very heavy price for this act," a senior Hamas official, Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi, told the Reuters news agency. "We will definitely respond very painfully."

Israel to ease blockades

The Israeli cabinet, meanwhile, has said it will ease the military blockade of Palestinian areas because of a decrease in violence.

The measures announced by the cabinet include easing severe travel restrictions in the West Bank and Gaza, and letting some Palestinian workers back into Israel.

The Israeli authorities had delayed these steps, accusing the Palestinians of violating the truce.

Now they say the violence is beginning to decrease.

The BBC's Barbara Plett in Jerusalem says Israeli officials are uneasy about growing support for Mr Arafat in the US and Britain. The two countries are reaching out to him as they try to draw Arab states into their coalition against terror.

Israel has tried to portray the Palestinian leader as a terrorist and says he is not clamping down on militants.

But under pressure from the US, it has decided to take some conciliatory steps.

Gideon Meir, Israeli Foreign Ministry
"It was not a hardline militant, it was a terrorist"
See also:

14 Oct 01 | UK Politics
Arafat arrives in the UK for talks
03 Oct 01 | Middle East
Q&A: Mid-East violence surges
27 Sep 01 | Middle East
Analysis: The intifada one year on
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