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Tuesday, 22 January, 2002, 13:13 GMT
Militant released after Israeli raid
Israeli armoured personnel carrier in Nablus
The Israelis say they are doing Mr Arafat's work for him
Palestinian police have released a jailed Hamas member after thousands of angry protesters besieged the police station where he was being held in the West Bank town of Nablus.

The men were killed in cold blood

Nablus governor
The demonstration followed a brief Israeli raid in which troops shot dead four members of the militant Islamic group - one of them the brother of the man set free.

Police fired shots into the crowd, who threw stones, attacked vehicles and tried to set the police station on fire, demanding further releases. Several people were injured.

The Hamas military wing has issued a statement vowing to wage war against Israel on all fronts.

One of the group's political leaders said it should reconsider its freeze on suicide attacks in Israel - a decision made in response to a call by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in December.

Israeli officials say the men were killed in a gun battle during an overnight raid on an explosives laboratory in the al-Majeen district, about half a kilometre from the centre of Nablus.

Palestinians say the four were assassinated.

"The men were killed in cold blood. They raided an apartment and killed people in their beds in the early morning," Nablus Governor Mahmud al-Alul told Reuters.

The army denied the charge. Nine people were arrested in the raid.

Tulkarm pull-out

On Tuesday morning, Israeli troops and tanks pulled out of Tulkarm, another West Bank town, which they had taken over a day earlier in the biggest operation of its kind since the Palestinian uprising began 16 months ago.

Crowds gather outside scene of Nablus shootings
Palestinians heard explosions, then shots
Israeli officials say the tanks will stay on the outskirts of Tulkarm and continue to seal off the town, after what they called a successful operation against Palestinian militants.

Israel says the incursions are in response to an attack last Friday in the coastal town of Hadera, in which a Palestinian gunman, said to be from Tulkarm, killed six Israelis and injured 30.

Over the past 16 months, Israeli troops have repeatedly seized neighbourhoods in Palestinian towns for limited periods.

Israel says it is going after Palestinian militants because Mr Arafat will not.

The Palestinians say Israel is trying to further weaken Mr Arafat's authority.

They argue that he cannot keep the militants quiet indefinitely if Israel keeps up provocative military operations.

The BBC's Barbara Plett
"It was a brief overnight operation"
The BBC's Janet Barrie
"The situation in Nablus... remains tense"
See also:

20 Jan 02 | Middle East
Thousands demand Arafat's release
20 Jan 02 | Middle East
The Palestinians under closure
18 Jan 02 | Middle East
'Another dark day in Israel'
14 Jan 02 | Middle East
Leading Palestinian killed in blast
10 Jan 02 | Middle East
Palestinian militants abandon truce
03 Jan 02 | Middle East
Tough times for US Mideast envoy
19 Jan 02 | Middle East
Stripping Gaza of statehood dream
21 Jan 02 | Middle East
Mid-East religions condemn bloodshed
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