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Friday, 19 October, 2001, 13:39 GMT 14:39 UK
Israeli tanks enter West Bank towns
The remains of car that exploded, killing three Palestinians
Atef Abayat's death is being blamed on Israel
Israel sent tanks and bulldozers into the Palestinian-controlled towns of Bethlehem and Beit Jala, dismissing appeals from Washington for restraint.

Tanks started rolling into the two West Bank towns after Palestinian gunmen attacked Gilo, a Jewish neighbourhood on occupied land, in response to the killing of Palestinian militia leader Atef Abayat in a car explosion on Thursday.


Zeevi's murder does a lot to help our public relations

Dan Meridor
Israeli minister
Seven Palestinians are reported to have been wounded, three critically, by Israeli gunfire in Bethlehem and Beit Jala.

Meanwhile in the West Bank town of Ramallah, a Palestinian policeman was killed during clashes with Israeli forces, and in Gaza a 13-year-old was killed when he picked up a live shell allegedly fired by an Israeli tank.

Violence has been escalating in the region since Palestinian militants killed the Israeli Tourism Minister, Rehavam Zeevi, in a Jerusalem hotel two days ago.

US pressure

The Palestinian Authority has arrested several suspects in connection with the assassination, but rejected Israel's demand to hand them over.

The funeral of assassinated minister Rehavam Zeevi
Hundreds attended Rehavam Zeevi's funeral
In an increasing war of words, the Palestinians have accused the Israeli Government of returning to violence and providing more excuses for international terrorism.

The death of Mr Abayat, the Bethlehem military leader of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction, came just after Israel had promised retribution for Mr Zeevi's assassination.

The BBC's Barbara Plett in Jerusalem says that while officially the army suggests he was killed by his own bomb, privately Israeli security sources say he had been targeted by Israel.

Israel has renewed its policy of tracking and killing militants on its most wanted list, saying it is forced to do so because Mr Arafat does not arrest them.

And an aide to Mr Arafat has even accused Israel of plotting to assassinate the Palestinian leader himself.

"The Palestinian Authority has discovered Israeli plans to assassinate President Yasser Arafat and other Palestinian leaders," Nabil Abu Rudeina said.

Call for restraint

The US State Department, which is attempting to hold together a coalition for its war on terrorism that contains many Middle East states hostile to Israel, had called on the Israelis to exercise restraint following the assassination of Mr Zeevi.

Mr Zeevi, a highly controversial hardliner and the first elected official to be killed by Palestinians since the creation of the Jewish state, was buried in an emotional ceremony on Thursday.

US spokesman Philip Reeker had said that an overreaction by Israel to Mr Zeevi's killing would let terrorists derail recent steps toward peace with the Palestinians.

"That's exactly what the perpetrators of these acts want to see happen," he said.

Dan Meridor, an Israeli minister without portfolio in charge of security matters, is about to embark on a self-professed public relations trip to the US where he is to explain the Israeli position to the White House.

In an interview with Israel's Channel 2 TV prior to his departure, he declared that the death of Mr Zeevi "does a lot to help our public relations".

"The Americans understand that Israel must react to this murder. Israel cannot treat it as just another terrorist attack," said Mr Meridor.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Orla Guerin in Jerusalem
"Israel is piling on the pressure"
Saeb Erekat, Palestinian spokesman
"The endgame of Sharon is to destroy the peace process"
Ranaan Gissin, senior advisor to Ariel Saron
"We're giving Arafat another opportunity to actually implement the ceasefire"
See also:

18 Oct 01 | Middle East
Israel buries murdered minister
18 Oct 01 | Middle East
In pictures: Israel mourns minister
16 Oct 01 | Middle East
Israel may accept Palestinian state
15 Oct 01 | Middle East
Hamas militant killed in West Bank
27 Aug 01 | Middle East
Israel kills key Palestinian leader
17 Oct 01 | Middle East
Israeli minister shot dead
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