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Saturday, 27 October, 2001, 19:22 GMT 20:22 UK
Israel calls off withdrawal
Palestinian gunmen running during clashes with Israeli troops in Bethlehem
The clashes have halted Israel's withdrawal
The Israeli Government has cancelled the planned withdrawal of its tanks and soldiers from the West Bank towns of Bethlehem and Beit Jala.

The Israeli prime minister's office said the pull-back had been cancelled indefinitely after violence again broke out in Bethlehem.

A Palestinian gunman in Bethlehem
Gunfights broke out in Bethlehem
The BBC's Stephen Gibb in Jerusalem says Saturday night's proposed withdrawal was supposed to be a test case for a wider pull-back by Israel from the other Palestinian areas it reoccupied following the assassination earlier this month of Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi.

Fighting began in Bethlehem shortly after Israeli and Palestinian security officials held a meeting to discuss the logistics of the Israeli pullout.

Witnesses said one of the Israeli tanks fired several shells, and that Palestinians replied with machine-gun fire. Hospital sources said four Palestinians were injured in the clashes.

It is unclear for how long the withdrawal has been cancelled. Israel remains under international pressure, notably from the United States, to leave the Palestinian-controlled areas as soon as possible.

A Palestinian minister has warned that if there is not a complete withdrawal within days, the Palestinian ceasefire will be called off.

Raanan Gissin, an aide to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said the withdrawal would take place when there was "a complete ceasefire in the Beit Jala and Bethlehem areas". He added: "That hasn't happened."

The proposed withdrawal was announced on Friday after Israeli and Palestinian officials reached agreement on security measures.

More than 40 Palestinians have been killed during the Israeli incursions, many of them in the village of Beit Rima.

In Tulkarem, another West Bank town Israel occupied last week, a member of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fateh movement was reported to have been shot and killed on Saturday in a clash with Israeli forces.

The BBC's Stephen Gibbs
"After a brief glimmer of hope the stalemate continues"
Advisor to Ariel Sharon Dr. Dore Gold
"The Palestinians did not implement what was agreed in Friday's meeting"
Hanna Nasser, Mayor of Bethlehem
"The only way to implement any ceasefire agreement is to call upon the international forces"
See also:

26 Oct 01 | Middle East
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Israel says raid nets key suspects
18 Oct 01 | Middle East
In pictures: Israel mourns minister
17 Oct 01 | Middle East
Questions over Israel security failure
22 Oct 01 | Middle East
Watching the Palestinian night
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