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Monday, 22 October, 2001, 09:29 GMT 10:29 UK
Israel keeps grip on West Bank
Israel soldiers in Beit Jala
Israel says the troops stay until killers are handed over
Israel is maintaining its positions in and around six Palestinian towns and cities in the West Bank as part of its biggest ground offensive during the year-long intifada.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said the forces would withdraw only when the Palestinian Authority had outlawed militant groups and handed over those responsible for the assassination last week of Israel's Tourism Minister, Rehavam Zeevi.


The Palestinian Authority said it has now banned the military wing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the group which killed Zeevi.

But Palestinian officials said no-one will be handed over to the Israelis.

Violence

International efforts are now under way to try to bring an end to the violence of the last few days, in which more than 20 Palestinians and one Israeli have been killed.

European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana is visiting Israel to see if he can revive a ceasefire agreed last month, amid calls for Israel to withdraw from Palestinian areas.

Since Friday, Israeli forces have entered the Palestinian towns of Ramallah, Jenin, Bethlehem, Tulkarm, Qalqilya and Beit Jala.

The BBC's correspondent in Jerusalem, James Reynolds, says the greatest pressure may come not from the international community, but from within the Israeli Government instead.

Members of the Labour Party, part of the ruling coalition, said that unless the military action of the last few days achieves results very soon, they may walk out of the government.

Crackdown

The Palestinian leadership said it was banning the armed wing of the PFLP because it "gave Israel the opportunity to intensify its repression of our people".

Palestinian gunman firing in Bethlehem
The incursions have met with fierce resistance

Israeli Defence Minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer dismissed the move, saying Mr Arafat had already banned the group and "didn't need to outlaw them again".

The crackdown on the PFLP has angered another militant Islamic group, Hamas, which insists on the right of Palestinians to resist Israel's occupation through armed struggle.

It says that by outlawing military groups, the Palestinian Authority has stabbed its people in the back at a time when national unity is critical.

Arrests

Palestinian officials said they had now arrested 20 PFLP members.

Hamas supporter at a funeral
Hamas accuse the Palestinian Authority of backstabbing

On Sunday, three Palestinian men were hit by Israeli gunfire near Bethlehem and a woman was killed near Jenin.

Israeli troops also moved further into Ramallah and destroyed a three-storey building belonging to Mr Arafat's Force 17 guards, the French news agency AFP reported.

On Saturday, eight Palestinians were killed in clashes with Israeli forces - the largest loss of life in a single day of violence for two months.

Condemnation

Several countries, including the United States, have criticised the Israeli incursions.

In New York, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan urged Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres to "find a way back to the negotiating table".

Palestinian officials said Mr Arafat had spoken to the American Secretary of State, Colin Powell, and urged the US to call on Israel to withdraw.

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

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Orla Guerin in Jerusalem
"There is real pressure now to get the tanks out"
Israeli foreign minister Shimon Perez
"We are not conducting a personal war against Arafat"
Henry Siegman, Council on Foreign Relations
"Prime Minister Sharon never made a secret of what his long range goal is"
See also:

22 Oct 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
A new era of violence
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
Israeli minister shot dead
27 Aug 01 | Middle East
Israel kills key Palestinian leader
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