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Sunday, 21 October, 2001, 04:17 GMT 05:17 UK
Eight die in West Bank bloodshed
Palestinian aims a sling at Israeli troops
Israel is strengthening its hold on Bethlehem
Eight Palestinians have been killed in clashes with Israeli forces in Palestinian-controlled areas of the West Bank - the largest loss of life in a single day of violence for two months.

Four Palestinian civilians were killed in the Bethlehem area, while two members of the Palestinian security forces died in Tulkarm and a Palestinian policeman and a member of the Islamic militant group Hamas were killed in Qalqilya, according to Palestinian sources.

All our peace initiatives and all agreements signed between us and them are hitting the wall

Yasser Arafat
At least eight people were wounded when Israeli helicopter gunships fired up to three missiles at a building in Bethlehem, Palestinian officials said.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat later briefed a number of Arab leaders by telephone on the military escalation.

Israel said it was taking action against the Palestinian Authority "to thwart terror activities from its territories," following the assassination by Palestinian militants on Wednesday of cabinet minister Rehavam Zeevi.

Since Friday, Israeli forces have entered six Palestinian towns - Ramallah, Jenin, Bethlehem, Tulkarm, Qalqilya and Beit Jala - in the largest wave of incursions in more than a year of fighting.

Israel has demanded the Palestinians arrest and hand over Mr Zeevi's killers or "be viewed as an entity supporting and sponsoring terror".

Diplomatic moves

The Palestinian Authority called on Saturday for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council to discuss the Israeli raids.

Christian leaders in Jerusalem, meanwhile, issued a joint call for Israel "to bring this intolerable situation to an immediate end".

As the international community urged both sides to end the violence, a spokesman for United Nations General Secretary Kofi Annan said Mr Annan would meet Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres for talks in New York on Sunday.

Israeli Government spokesman Arie Mekel said Israel had decided to do whatever it took to protect its citizens.

Mr Arafat said Israel was pursuing a military solution at the expense of political initiatives - and creating a new hell for the Palestinians.

Earlier, the Israelis said their soldiers had killed or arrested what they described as 20 Palestinian terrorists - including a would-be suicide bomber - in their ground operations since Thursday.

Israel says two of its troops were shot and wounded by Palestinian gunmen at Bethlehem's Tomb of Rachel and another was stabbed and injured by a Palestinian in Bethlehem.

US pressure

The heightened tension between the two sides threatens to undermine America's efforts to solidify Arab support for its anti-terror coalition.

Rehavam Zeevi's funeral
Shocked Israelis have demanded revenge for Mr Zeevi's killing
In a sharp rebuke, the US State Department said on Friday that Israel's forays into Palestinian areas were "not helpful, complicate the situation and should be halted".

The US called on Israel and the Palestinians to "avoid steps that inflame the situation and make more difficult measures to achieve calm".

Israeli Justice Minister Meir Sheetrit said Israel had no intention of holding on to Palestinian-controlled territory but had to "stop Palestinian attacks against Israel".

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has vowed to take resolute action against the Palestinian Authority following Mr Zeevi's murder.

Mr Sharon has severed all political contact with the PA and demanded it extradite Mr Zeevi's killers to Israel and dismantle militant groups operating in Palestinian areas.

The hardline Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which carried out Mr Zeevi's assassination, said the PA had arrested dozens of its members, Israel radio reported.

Palestinian Culture Minister Yasser Abbed Rabbo, meanwhile, rejected Israel's ultimatum to hand over the suspects, saying the PA would not fall in to what he called an "Israeli trap".

The BBC's Orla Guerin
"Israeli tanks are entering town after town"
The BBC's Mark Urban
speaks to Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres
The BBC's James Reynolds in Jerusalem
"Moderate Israelis are angry about the events of the last few days"
See also:

19 Oct 01 | Middle East
Toll mounts in Mid-East clashes
19 Oct 01 | Middle East
Analysis: Israel turns right
18 Oct 01 | Middle East
Israel buries murdered minister
18 Oct 01 | Middle East
In pictures: Israel mourns minister
17 Oct 01 | Middle East
Questions over Israel security failure
17 Oct 01 | Middle East
Analysis: Israel's 'new era'
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
04 Oct 01 | Middle East
The Arafat enigma
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