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Thursday, 25 October, 2001, 13:59 GMT 14:59 UK
Israel discusses West Bank pull-out
Israeli soliders pulling out of Beit Rima in the West Bank
Hundreds of Israeli soldiers took part in the Beit Rima sweep
Top-level consultations have been called in Israel after an army incursion into a Palestinian-ruled village on Wednesday resulted in a bloodbath whose details remain hotly disputed.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's security cabinet is expected to discuss the withdrawal of troops from six Palestinian towns in the West Bank where they have been since an Israeli cabinet minister was killed last week.


The Palestinian population which has been facing an intolerable situation of military siege in violation of international humanitarian law

French Foreign Ministry
In renewed violence on Thursday, Israeli troops killed two more Palestinians in Bethlehem, one a police officer and one a 40-year-old resident of Aida refugee camp.

Meanwhile, the Arab League has urged Washington to do more to control the violence in the wake of the Israeli incursions.

On a visit to Washington, the Arab League's Secretary-General, Amr Moussa, said "Continuation of this situation will further poison the atmosphere in the region and increase feelings of Arab frustration."

In editorials on Thursday, many Arab newspapers argue that America's failure to restrain the Israelis is undermining Arab support for the US-led coalition against terrorism.

'Violations'

The latest killings in Bethlehem followed a night of heavy gunfire in the town, where Israeli tanks are positioned not far from the Church of the Nativity which marks the traditional birthplace of Jesus.

In Tulkarm, Israeli soldiers advanced from their positions on the outskirts of the town and surrounded the governor's house, firing rifles and machine guns, local Palestinians said.

Map
France has accused Israel of violating international humanitarian law in a week of raids that have left dozens of Palestinians dead.

"We want to express our deep concern about the Palestinian population which has been facing an intolerable situation of military siege for six days, in violation of international humanitarian law," said Foreign Ministry spokesman François Rivasseau quoted by AFP.

US shift

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres - returning from a trip to Washington - said he hoped the troops would pull back within days "as soon as situation calms down and the Palestinians have done what they pledged".

Mr Peres said he had succeeded in persuading President George W Bush to tone down US demands for an immediate US withdrawal, asking Israel only to move out "as soon as possible".

Squashed car and Israeli tanks in Beit Rima
The destruction in the village took place out of sight of the media
Some Palestinians are saying the US shift served as a green light to the Israeli army in carrying out Wednesday's controversial sweep of Beit Rima near Ramallah.

Israel says it has now withdrawn its forces from Beit Rima after a raid in which it said it captured Palestinians suspected of killing cabinet minister Rehavam Zeevi on 17 October.

The exact death toll in Beit Rima - which was declared a closed military area during the operation - is still unclear, but Israel has handed over five bodies to the Palestinians for burial.

Disputed accounts

The five were Palestinian policemen who had been manning a checkpoint at the entrance to the village which was fired on as a column of 15 Israeli tanks entered the village before dawn.

Palestinian medics say they counted nine corpses in total, but villagers said an unknown number of other people, including some with serious injuries were taken away by the Israeli troops.

Injured Palestinian
Palestinians have appealed to the United Nations for protection
Israeli accounts say the army returned fire when troops were shot at as they entered the village to arrest suspected members of Palestinian militant groups.

Palestinian officials called the operation - carried out by several hundred soldiers backed by 15 tanks and attack helicopters - "an ugly massacre".

A BBC correspondent in Jerusalem says there is now confusion about the arrests which Israel claimed to have made.

Israeli sources had said two of those detained were suspected of direct involvement with the Zeevi killing last week - but now it appears that those suspects were actually arrested some days ago.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Orla Guerin
"Some troops could go overnight"
The BBC's James Reynolds
reports from the town of Beit Rima

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25 Oct 01 | Middle East
24 Oct 01 | Middle East
18 Oct 01 | Middle East
17 Oct 01 | Middle East
22 Oct 01 | Middle East
24 Oct 01 | Middle East
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